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Mrs. Sharp's Traditions

A Sage of the Victorian Age Resurfaces

October 21, 1987|SARAH BAN BREATHNACH | This is the first of a weekly column by Sarah Ban Breathnach of Takoma Park, Md. She is married, has a 4-year-old daughter and collects Victoriana.

Are you pleased with your family life? Forgive Mrs. Sharp for being so bold, but if your answer is "No" or "I don't know," then dear parents, welcome home to "Mrs. Sharp's Traditions," an old-fashioned resource created for modern families.

Permit me to introduce myself: I am Mrs. E. F. Sharp, a Victorian mother, author and traditionalist. When your great-grandmothers were young homemakers, they relied on Mrs. Sharp's advice on how to excel at the art of daily domestic living, which appeared in popular 19th-Century American women's periodicals such as Godey's Lady's Book, Heart and Home and Woman's Home Companion.

"I do wish someone would write a family living feature full of old-fashioned pastimes for modern families" is a remark Mrs. Sharp frequently hears when visited by some of her younger women friends as they peruse her scrapbooks of yellowed and mellowed articles with a sigh of nostalgia.

"Ah, but my dears, you lead such different lives from the one Mrs. Sharp knew as a young wife and mother," I advise them over a cup of tea and sympathy. Before the turn of the century, home was the center of most of our social activity and mother was considered the light of the home. Somehow or other, Mrs. Sharp always found time amid the hustle and bustle of her daily routine to prepare for festive family celebrations and the enjoyment of seasonal delights which made home the place where one could spend merry, long hours. And while she realizes that mothering is still considered a noble pursuit today, during Mrs. Sharp's day (and it is always 1899 in Mrs. Sharp's heart) mothering was considered an art.

"But Mrs. Sharp," my younger friends exclaim, mourning the demise of old traditions, "just because we work outside our homes doesn't mean we care any less for our family's happiness. We too want to light up our homes with happy times, but sometimes at the end of the day we're so tired we can't even think of anything for all of us to do together, never mind get around to doing it. What's more, our families are so busy, we hardly even sit down for a meal together. Help!"

You might ask: What exactly can a 125-year-old Victorian mother have to say to today's busy families?


In these high-tech times, the American family is constantly assaulted by the daily demands and stresses of hectic living. With changes in homes or work place every few years (not to mention life-styles), old-fashioned pastimes, celebrations and traditions revived for today's living are just the reassuring tonic we all need.

Family traditions create a sense of belonging and stability. Mrs. Sharp hopes you agree.

In the weeks and months to come, she plans on bringing you a Victorian potpourri of suggestions on how to adapt the home-centered activities and traditions of yesteryear to 1980s' family life. As well, Mrs. Sharp will include contemporary resources, books and new products chosen to assist you in your most important task of nurturing and instructing the rising generation. Above all, Mrs. Sharp's Traditions is designed to conserve the emotional and creative energy of readers who wish to enjoy more "quality" time with their families but who don't know how or where to begin.

Thank goodness Mrs. Sharp remembers. Yet, let her be the first to confess that she is not a perfect mother, for there is no such being. Mrs. Sharp does believe, however, that she is a testimony to the therapeutic power of domestic bliss. Now entering her prime, just as the 20th Century hurdles toward its own fin de siecle, Mrs. Sharp has grasped the wisdom of the ages: The first 100 years of mothering are the most difficult.

So take a deep breath and take heart. Come home with Mrs. Sharp. Here amid the peace and quiet of fresh air and pine, you will find a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration. Before long you will find yourself incorporating good, old-fashioned, memory-making traditions of love and togetherness into the lives of your busy family.

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