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HARKING BACK TO THE DAYS OF SUBSERVIENCE

When men see this list of instructions, their eyes light up. And they ask if they can make a copy to take home to their wives.

I found it an amusing piece of fiction.

A woman in her 20s started smiling as she read it, but by the end said, "Oooow, it makes me cringe."

I'm talking about directives from a 1950 home economics book, under the heading, "How to prepare for your husband coming home from work," a task that consumed each and every day.

My wifehood didn't start until 1964 and I suppose some of these ideas still lingered.

I know they do in fantasies because there was longing in one man's voice when he said, "I want to go back."

And my twentysomething friend admitted: "It would be great if a man were doing it for me."

If we could travel back, I wonder how true to life the Harriet Nelson scenes recommended in the textbook would be?

Have dinner ready: "Plan ahead even the night before to have a delicious meal -- on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed."

As I remember it: The old trick was to have the table set so that it looked as if something was in progress. The block of hamburger meat had been taken out of the freezer at 4:30 (when my book was finished). By 5, the meat was thawing and sizzling away in an electric frying pan and I was frantically looking for something to add to it.

Prepare the children: "Take just a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and, if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part."

My way of preparing the children: "Wait until your father gets home."

Some don'ts: "Don't greet him with a problem or complaint. Don't complain if he's late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day."

Reality: I remember panting at the front door, wanting to do nothing more than unload those problems and complaints. What sane adult wouldn't, after a day of trying to satisfy the needs and wants and demands of four children?

And not complain if he's late for dinner? First women are told to start planning the night before and then they are told not to be upset if he's not there to eat it?

Minimize all noise: "At the time of his arrival, eliminate noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum."

God forbid he should have to listen to the racket and mayhem you've been hearing all day. Were women presumed to be stronger? More tolerant of noise and confusion?

Make him comfortable: "Have him lean back into a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Offer to massage his neck and shoulders and take off his shoes."

Who doesn't want this? Bring on the geisha girls.

Be happy to see him: "Greet him with a warm smile and act glad to see him." And there we have it -- was this all an act? Theater of the Absurd, perhaps.

Gosh, those were scary rules. I'm glad I never read them. Never lived them.

I hope those who did either enjoyed them thoroughly, or escaped with their psyches intact.

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