|I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought
Modeling One’s Life After Dark Shadows
A significant contribution to the
burgeoning field of Stoddard studies.
Tips on how to conduct oneself, based upon the character of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard:
- Always look your best, even if your husband isn’t buried in the basement.
- Plant your feet firm on the deck when a gale blows. Hold your head up high and damn the devil, because you don’t know how to run scared.
- To clarify what you have heard and slow down the episodes of your life, repeat the last word spoken by whomever is talking to you. For example: “How are you today?” “Today?”
- Do your hair very high, and add a bow most of the time.
- Say you don’t care about money, but if anyone tries to take yours, hit him in the head with a poker.
- Your makeup matters, even if your wrinkled lips smear the lipstick. It will matter more once you go to color.
- Hold back your tears. Choke back your emotion. Crying reveals your weakness, and no head of a cannery can afford emotion. Think of the dead fish you have to put out of your mind every day. If overwhelmed by feeling, let one or two tears escape, and dab them away delicately with a lace hanky. Loud sobbing is okay if alone in your room late at night, or when in the locked basement room.
- Write your death date in the family Bible in pencil or erasable ink. You never know, do you?
- Wear a tasteful suit or dress, though you will not go out. You never know who will need to speak to you in the drawing room.
- Practice social distancing: work from home, limit guests to two at a time, and isolate them in the drawing room.
- Almost always, face the open window, your back to the guest, assuring fresh air.
- Always add the family jewels. Pearls or a brooch, or both. Think Queen Elizabeth without the purse.
- Speaking to people, always say, “I need to speak with you.” This sets them on edge, giving you an advantage as they contemplate the cause of your need. Then, ask them to step into the drawing room. Close the doors. You have thus taken command of both space and time and lent importance to even the simplest statement. Then say, "Thank you, but I don’t wish to discuss it.” They are completely at your mercy, having no idea what just happened.
- Always maintain that your marriage was one of the worst mistakes in your life.
- The cue you’re looking for may be outside the drawing room window.
- Keep yourself separate from the town. Class distinctions are important. Granted, the occasional trip to the jail to bail out your daughter will be required, but never, ever, enter The Blue Whale. The dancing is atrocious.
- Never hand over the key you keep on a chain around your neck.
- It helps to have a narrator summarize your day as you begin each new one. It cuts through a lot of doubt as to what happened yesterday. And a diary takes a lot of time. Be aware that the narrator may change, affecting your day.
- Prohibit anyone from loitering near the locked room in the basement.
- Secure some lacy bed jackets. A full robe is so cumbersome when you are being served tea in bed.
- Plan for a bell to be installed in your mausoleum just in case you’re buried alive.
- Always avoid the question.
- Try to read only family genealogy, the occasional magazine, or newspaper headlines (but only when a close friend has disappeared).
- Decline sherry if it is offered, unless it is the only thing to keep you from fainting.
- There is dignity in defending one’s house guests to the death.
- Allow only one person to informally call you ‘Liz.’ That is Roger, your brother, but even he should reserve such casual address for the most intimate situations. Only answer to Mrs. Stoddard. Even to yourself.
- Be tortured by the presence of death. Others can’t see it, of course, but if they look into your eyes, they’ll know that you, somehow, can see it.
- Stay fit by strolling to Widow’s Walk. Do not go there if you are feeling dizzy.
- When you don’t know what to say, scan the room for a prompt. It gives you a desperate look and buys time for your response.
- Remind younger siblings and staff that you are the matriarch. Collinwood (or your address) belongs to you. You are in control until little David (or your own male heir) comes of age.
- Limit phones in the house to two. Place them within feet of each other. No need to take calls when you are trying to rest. The ghostly widows calling you to your death are enough disturbance at night.
- Hands should be kept at your center, lightly clasped, or folded. This communicates your resolve to take no action of any kind in any situation. Neutrality and inaction equal power and class.
- If you don’t want people to know you are menopausal, avoid opening and closing windows during storms and while there is a fire in the fireplace. It’s a dead giveaway you are having hot flashes.
- Most importantly, whatever it is, don’t talk about it. Especially not over the phone. Or if it’s late. But it you must, always go into the drawing room and close the doors. For God’s sake, not the hall!
Original Content Copyright © 2020 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.