Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Polishing memory

Yesterday, the Thanksgiving countdown began in earnest. Recipes spread out beside me, I crafted the holiday menu, simultaneously creating a shopping and a "to-do" list, so that turkey day (and the days after!) might find me prepared and ready.  Today's major tasks included (after breakfast with Barabara and Ralph) shopping and polishing the silver.  

Section by section, I clean out the top drawer of my mother's server, heaping its silver contents on the sink next to the pile of soft rags and polish.  And then, I begin--rubbing the tarnish away, fork by fork and spoon by spoon.  I don’t know why I dread this silverware chore so much, but I do.  Until I begin.  Invariably, once I dip the cloth in the paste, the rote and repetitive nature of this mundane job takes me back to  places and people I cherish.

Jumbled together are pieces of mine, my mother's and both my grandmothers.  It is somewhat ironic that I never asked for nor desired sterling silver flatware.  After all, I was a mere 19 years old, a college student, and a bit of a dreamer when I upset the apple cart to marry during the trimester break.  A seamstress family friend sewed my simple wedding dress.  We didn't have a registry, a fancy reception, or really any of the hoopla of today's weddings.  Add to these untraditional nuptials an unplanned pregnancy two months into our young marriage and a drawer of sterling silver was the last thing on my mind.

In August of our honeymoon year, at eight months pregnant I vividly remember sitting in my mother's kitchen when the phone call came telling her that her brother Bobby, my favorite Uncle Bob, was dead. She was so shocked to hear these words, she barely spoke to the woman telling her (my Nana's best friend) before she replaced the phone on the hook.  Almost immediately after she told me Uncle Bob had died, she said, "I don't even know what happened." She had to call back  It was an automobile accident; he never stood a chance in his VW Beetle. My mom and dad almost immediately sold the only cool car we had, our own beloved Bug.  My brother and I completely understood.

About three months later with a new baby in tow, Mom dragged me down to Crabtrees, a hometown, family-owned jewelry store.  She had inherited some money from her brother, and she wanted me to pick out a silver pattern. This was to be a lasting gift to me from Uncle Bob. I thought it totally unnecessary and frankly, a bit weird.  But I did it entirely to please her, selecting seven place settings of a simple pattern of straight lines and smooth surfaces.  She had an old English "C" engraved on the handles.  

I have forever been grateful for her foresight.  I am not overly sentimental about stuff, except for the dishes, china, crystal, and silver passed down to me from the women in my family.  I am who I am today in large part because of those who have gone before me.  My mother, my Grandma Herman, and my Nana Hueston taught me much about being a mother, a woman, a teacher, a grandmother, and a caring contributor to society.  Setting a feast table becomes a reverent act, with soft images and memories of my mother, my Nana, and my grandmother enfolding me.  I imagine them smiling down their approval as new generations eat from their dishes, use their utensils, and dine on a table lined with linens that once were theirs. They and their traditions live on...and for that heritage, among so many other good things, I give thanks.


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  2. Oh Ellen, such a way with words you have. No, the words come because...such a way with life you have. Thank you for sharing. It's your gift, you know, the ability to share sentiments and sentimentality. I will sleep better tonight, in peace with a grateful heart -- for having caught up on your blogs. (Which may be a sad commentary on my own life, but I say it with a smile.)

  3. How lovely... I love being a part of your feast table.