Center of attention

The only two homes I have owned – or, more accurately, been on my way to owning – have had a fireplace. And with the fireplace comes the obligatory mantel.

Fireplace and mantel
Our lovely yet forlorn fireplace and mantel.

I will explore the wisdom and necessity of setting wood ablaze inside your home in a different essay, but today I am concerned more about the sociology of home spaces. There seems to be a waning tradition of gathering around the fireplace in the home and sharing family moments together.

This seems particularly out of fashion on 90-degree days in the South, but seasonal timing notwithstanding, the mantel doesn’t seem to have the same place of honor that it once had in the Southern home.

It has been replaced.

Sorry, mantel, you responsible older sibling who was trusted to hold our most precious heirlooms and photographs. There’s an exciting little baby in the house now that’s stealing all of the attention that once belonged exclusively to you.  You have been superseded by a younger, hipper piece of furniture that appeals to our societal ADD deceptively offering the antidote to our every need: the entertainment center.

There was a time in our home that my wife’s taste was to keep that unsavory device known as the television hidden completely from view, unless you were watching HGTV. Then, you
could retrieve the television from its secret location and watch it.

We have several pieces of elaborate furniture once designed to hold clothing now providing cover for the design-challenged box of nonstop noise and images.

But the television has come out of the closet.

Christmas of 2009, we received a new flat screen, high-definition television as a gift from Carla’s generous parents. It wasn’t grandiose, and it wasn’t the top of the line. It was a nice television that helped us move closer to the digital age. We are not early adopters
technologically by any stretch of the imagination.

This new flat screen, like all of the TVs before it, was tucked neatly away in a cabinet, an old wardrobe Carla picked up at a junk furniture store in Macon for $10. It still had the bar in it from which you hung clothes, presumably.

Our dream for our playroom and its multiplying toys was shelving. One cannot possibly think of shelving in the New South without visiting Ikea, so over the course of several years and a number of on-again, off-again flirtations with storage units at the Swedish home store, we settled on a Hemnes TV unit with Hemnes bookshelves and a bridging shelf.

Entertainment center
Our 'media solution' from Ikea and its load of magical items to hold our attention.

Now, our flat screen television, DVD player (no Blu-ray yet!), VCR (still), digital cable box and Wii game console all sit front and center to capture our undivided attention. And we have plenty of shelf space for books and games and bins of art materials and DVDs and puzzles and on and on and on.

I’m not counting, but I’d guess that we spend about two and a half minutes a year in front of our stately mantel with its plates depicting Georgia history and about two and a half hours a day in front of the “media solution.”

Todd Alcott’s poem “Television is a Drug,” which my videographer friend Beth Fulton set to video last year, says it all: “Look at me!” the television cries.

And in the New South, we happily comply.

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