Baby It’s Cold Outside-The Controversy

I really can’t stay (Baby it’s cold outside)
I gotta go away (Baby it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (Been hoping that you’d dropped in)
So very nice (I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (Beautiful what’s your hurry?)
My father will be pacing the floor (Listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I’d better scurry (Beautiful, please don’t hurry)
Well maybe just a half a drink more (I’ll put some records on while I pour)  From “Baby It’s Cold Outside”  by Frank Loesser in 1944


A few weeks ago I was scanning Facebook and came across a comment from my friend, Mary Jo.  She was wondering why the holiday classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was being banned by radio stations across the country.  I also wondered why. It turns out that radio disk jockey Glenn Anderson of Cleveland’s WDOK-FM listened to the lyrics of the song and found them, “Manipulative and wrong.”  

We now live in a protective bubble world.  A place where our interpretation of something trumps its actual meaning or intent. We are supposed to live politically correct lives, at least on the surface.  

I can understand how some things that we once thought were acceptable are now considered offensive.  When I was growing up, it was common to see a small statue of a black coachman at the entrance of a suburban driveway.  As I kid I didn’t think much about this, but I am a white male. Many blacks felt otherwise, and these creepy statues have long disappeared.

This is a world of extremes and absolutes.  Concepts that have merit can be neutralized by applying their intent in such a broad way that they become meaningless. #metoo brought to the world’s attention the atrocities of men in power who used that power to abuse both men and women sexually.  Bringing these practices to the forefront was both essential and necessary. However, as this hashtag caught fire, it spawned an ever-broadening set of things that offended. Dear reader, there is a big difference between masturbating in front of an unwilling underling to telling someone that you like their outfit. If this common courtesy offends the recipient, I believe that they should say to the commenter that they would prefer not to hear such things.  This empowers the individual and clearly lets the complimenter know the rules of the road for that individual.

We need to be respectful of individuals, but we also need to acknowledge that something that offends one person may actually be appreciated by another.  I am delighted on the rare occasion when someone tells me that I look nice. I make an effort to tell people (both men and women) when I think that they look nice. Conversely, I have gotten negative feedback when I have failed to notice changes. My kids will often remind me when my wife has gotten a new haircut.  Once alerted I do see the difference and I’m happy to let my wife know.

I understand that there are readers out there who will be offended by my opinion. They may cite instances where someone’s outfit comments were clearly out-of-line. I once heard a female speaker at a conference refer to her tall leather boots as, “Come f**k me boots.”  However, it is unlikely that she would appreciate it if I said to her, “Hey, I really dig your come f**k me boots!” Common sense in all things.

It is not just what is said, it is the context in which it is said.  We now converse with each other by text message, and individuals who have been raised on this type of communication have less exposure to the nuances of communication. We are no longer listeners, we are readers. How many times have you read someone’s text and wondered, “Are they being funny or serious?”

So is “Baby Its Cold Outside” an innocent flirtatious love song or a date rape anthem?  The song was written by Frank Loesser in 1944 as a call and response duet. He wrote it for his wife and himself so they could perform it when then were attending friend’s parties. “Hey honey we don’t need to bring any nacho dip, I decided to write them a hit song instead.  Good thing that we can both sing.” (not a real quote) The song was featured in the 1949 movie, “Neptune’s Daughter.” However, the version that seems to be most popular on the radio was recorded by Dean Martin in 1959 (using a chorus for the female part).

In the American culture in the 1940s-1960s, women who were more open about their sexuality were considered tramps or sluts. The ideal woman was called a “good girl.”  Chast, pure and absent of any libidinal urges until those feelings were unlocked by that special someone. Romantic communications were more indirect, and part of courting involved gentle persistence and resistance. I’m not endorsing or condemning this style, I’m just stating that was the way it was. If you are 30 or under, you may not believe me. If you are 40 and older, you know that that was the case.

You see these behaviors played out in “Baby Its Cold Outside.”  The suitor continues to suggest that his date stays longer (likely for the night).  Her main reason for not staying is not that she doesn’t want to, she is concerned what other people will think of her if she does,  “My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious… So really I’d better scurry.” She is representing the popular concept of a good girl. In that role, she is offering gentle resistance to his pleas.  She tells him how she is expected to act, while she also tells him what she is really thinking. “I ought to say no, no no, sir. At least I can say I tried.” She delays leaving a number of times in the song with lines like, “But maybe just a cigarette more,” and “But maybe just a half a drink more.”

Good girls were supposed to be sexy and sexless at the same time.  When they acted outside of this contradictory set of rules, it was expected of them to blame external influences or events. We see those mores played out in lines like, “I wish I knew how to break this spell,”  and “Say what’s in this drink?” The song ends with both parties singing in unison, “But, baby it’s cold outside!” After persuasion and resistance have played out, they are now allowed to do what they intended to do, reputations intact.

“Baby it’s cold outside.” is a fluffy little love song that was correctly understood by the audience that it was intended for. To make it into something else shows how limited we have become in our critical thinking skills.  Sadly, this lack of critical thinking extends to broader and more important issues in our lives and the world around us. It is important to understand things not only from our viewpoint and frame of reference but also from the perspective of others. Unfortunately, the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes has gone from commonplace to exotic.

The video below has two version of this song.  The first one is from the movie, “Neptune’s Daughter.”  The second is the comedic Red Skeleton version. Both give you an idea of Mr. Loesser’s intent. However, the comic Red Skeleton version gives you an even clearer view of what the song was really saying by reversing gender expected roles.  Give the video a watch.

Droby Fest 2018

Saturday night, December 1, 2018, we pile into my red Ford Flex. It is cold, just above freezing. Rain is falling, and we are all chilled. I tap directions into my iPhone, and off we go to Droby Fest. At this point, you may be thinking that Droby is the name of a band, or that Droby Fest is a community event, it is neither.

A Droby is a fresh Slovak sausage. Our family’s version is made from pork, organ meats, rice, and potatoes. It is seasoned with marjoram. There seem to be many renditions of this peasant sausage. However, they all have meat and potatoes in them.

Droby sausages are not bought, they are homemade in a laborious process. As a child, I had the job of grinding ingredients. My father would clamp a meat grinder onto a tall wooden stool. A large blue speckled Granite Ware roasting pan was then placed below the mill to catch the product of my efforts. I would feed chunks of raw meat and peeled potatoes into its nickel-plated hopper, as I cranked and cranked. When making Droby, you start with a coarse grinding plate and reprocess the mixture with successively smaller plates until it is the right consistency, relatively smooth with just a little bit of chunkiness. At home, we made our mixture casserole style, right in the roasting pan. However, my grandmother made her’s the traditional way, in sausage casing.

My extended family would meet at my grandparent’s south side walk-up on Christmas Eve. Their small residence consisted of a living room, a kitchen, three very tiny bedrooms, and an unheated back porch. Clean and neat, it appeared to be a homage to the 1940s, as most of it had never been modernized. Extremely tiny by today’s standards, it was the home where my grandparents raised their 6 children.

Our festivities would start with a meatless Christmas Eve meal. After a blessing, we would dine on Oplaki (wafers with honey), Opekance (steamed bread balls with poppyseed), and my grandmother’s delicious dried mushroom/sauerkraut soup. Sweets were aplenty, and there were endless supplies of kolacky, drop cookies, and homemade yeast coffee cake. I had to sample all of them.

At 11:30 PM we would go to midnight Mass at Assumption BVM church, a small Slovak Catholic church that was a few blocks away. The church would be packed with parishioners wearing their finest clothing, which were often items that had been removed from mothballs only hours earlier. The smell of mothballs mixed with onions and garlic is a distinct, if not wanted, memory for me.

After Mass, we would return to my grandparent’s for a second feast. My teetotaling aunts might sip on a glass of sweet Mogen David wine, getting a little silly in the process., My father and his brothers would do shots of whiskey, and become more boisterous. We kids would talk, play made up games, and continue to eat sweets. It was then time to eat again, although everyone was still completely full. I don’t recall everything that the second meal consisted of, but I do remember my grandmother’s light rye bread, baked ham, hard-boiled eggs, and Droby. Her bacon wrapped Droby sausage was baked until the casing was deliciously crisp. Yummy!

My grandparents died, and over the years our families grew apart. I recall going to many extended family parties as a kid, but very few by the time that I was in high school. With the loss of get-togethers came the loss of ethnic foods. I tried to make a dish here and there, but I had neither the time nor the skill to move past the most basic recipes.

And then there was a funeral…

When families drift, it isn’t uncommon to only re-connect at funerals and weddings. Such was the case of my extended family. At my Aunt Suzie’s funeral, my sister Nancy struck up a conversation with my cousin Ken. During that conversation, it was suggested that the family have a reunion picnic. At that picnic, it was determined that we needed other opportunities to reconnect, and a variety of get-togethers were eventually created. We now get together a number of times during the year. My cousins Ken and Kris are our family organizers. Their dedication to the Kuna cause is steadfast, and I am very grateful for their efforts.

Droby Fest is our cousin Christmas party, and it is held in the community room of the small Lutheran church where my cousin Bob attends. The building is tucked away on a side street in a quiet neighborhood in Palatine. It appears to have been built in the 1960s, and I would describe its architecture as functional.

The room where we meet is a large, bright rectangle. The walls, a utilitarian blue, the floor basic linoleum tiles. At the far end of the room is a large painting of Jesus with outstretched arms, floating on a cloud. Long folding tables stand in rows, each dotted with folding chairs. Seating is not assigned.

When you enter Droby Fest, you can feel the energy of the crowd. People mill around to connect with each other in a fashion that appears both random and purposeful at the same time. Smiles are everywhere.

As with my grandparent’s parties, food is at center stage. A long row of tables on one wall serves as the buffet bar for the main meal. Another table on an opposite wall serves as the dessert bar.

Everyone brings food, some homemade, some ethnic, some store-bought; it really doesn’t matter. This year the offerings ranged from Slovak chicken paprikash with haluski dumplings, to meatless Shepherd’s Pie for the vegetarians, to gluten-free perogies for those with gluten intolerance. There was something for everyone. My cousin Ken always makes Droby sausage in enough quantity to feed a small army.

The dessert bar is enormous and offers up a wide variety of store bought and homemade sweets. I no longer eat concentrated forms of sugar, so I drool as others sample a little bit of this or that. Alcohol is available, but only a few imbibe, and those that do seem to limit their consumption. This is a far cry from my father and my uncles drinking whiskey shots from the days of yore.

There is no rigid format at Droby Fest. Attend if you can, if you can’t, you will be missed. Talk to whoever you choose. Do whatever you want. Guilt and shame are off limits. We have long transcended peacocking. Victories are celebrated, losses are comforted. There are handshakes, smiles, and hugs.

I am proud of my extended family. Our grandparents arrived from Europe with nothing. Our parents were blue collar workers who wanted more for their children. My generation is highly educated and professional. America really is the land of opportunity!

Droby Fest now extends to three Kuna generations. My kids have tasted Slovak food, and they enjoy it. This Thursday I’ll cook Chicken Paprikash and Haluski with my son Will. He tried this dish at Droby Fest, and he was interested in learning how to make it. Our heritage lives on.

My cousins are kind, generous, interesting, and smart. What a privilege it is to spend time with them. How proud I am to be part of the Kuna family.

Next year we will celebrate 20 years of Droby Fest. We are no longer drifting apart.

Food, the heart of any gathering involving
Eastern Europeans.
Just some of the desserts.
Older connecting with younger.
A new generation of Droby eaters.
Julie, Will and me.
Family
Cousin Bob makes 60 loves of cinnamon bread by hand!
Getting ready to say grace.
Family gathering together.