“There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,’ my mother explained shortly before she left me. ‘If you can remember me, I will be with you always.” ― Isabel Allende, Eva Luna
This has been a cold and stormy winter. I have lived in New England all my life, first in Massachusetts and now in New Hampshire, with time off for good behavior on the coast of Maine. The cold and snow should not come as a surprise to me. This winter, however, has seemed endless with no sign of spring.
Last weekend, in protest against the continuing gloom, I decided to have a small dinner party as a belated celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. The color scheme was red and white and the weather, in a rare spirit of co-operation, provided a backdrop of pristine new snow.
I have noticed that many people set their tables with new dishes and contemporary glassware when we are invited out these days. I am told, “It was time for something new. We decided to get rid of that old stuff.”
Not me. I still use my old stuff. Setting the table last Saturday, as the snow fell outside, the ladies came back, as I knew they would, and watched me to make sure I was taking care of the things they left me.
I arranged the red and white roses in the cut glass vase my mother gave me when I was first married more than forty years ago, remembering, as I always do, the story of why it was given to her.
I grew up in Littleton, Massachusetts during the fifties when it was a small town referred to as “ going up to the country” by my Boston area relatives. Everyone knew everything about their neighbors and there was a fair bit of cattiness among the ladies.
That being said, people quickly banded together in times of trouble. The mother of one of mom’s friends was very sick and needed an operation that would require a blood transfusion. This was before blood was easily banked and available. The woman had the same rare blood type as my mother – A Negative. My mother went down to Concord and donated as much as she could. After the woman’s death, her daughter invited my mother to come and select something from her things as a thank you. Mom chose the vase. As my hands linger, fussing with the roses, I think as I always do when I touch this vase about my mother’s generous heart.
The dishes I use are cream-colored and sprinkled with nosegays of spring flowers. The pattern is called “ Old Ivory Selma” and it was made by the Syracuse China Company. Below the label is stamped “Made in America”. These dishes belonged to my great-aunt and godmother, Viola Duggan. She wanted me to have them, her son told me, because my mother and father had given her the set as a wedding gift in November 1940. I think of the many happy, boisterous meals these dishes have served our family. Whenever I use them, I see my mother and her Aunt Vi, standing at the kitchen sink deep in conversation washing and drying them by hand. I hear my Aunt Vi say as she often did, “Now listen, Gertrude.”
There is a wealth of Waterford crystal on the table. Water glasses, wine glasses, salt and pepper shakers in the Lismore pattern, crowned by the glittering chandelier hanging overhead. My mother-in-law, Bernice O’Connor, gave the Waterford crystal to us and whenever I use it, I think of her. Waterford has a gem like quality, glittering brightly in the glow of the candles. Even the most pedestrian wine tastes better when it is served in Waterford; it makes everything seem more festive.
Bernice was like that, too. She was a military wife who carefully collected and protected the crystal as she moved from one army base to another, rounding out her collection when her husband was the Military Attaché to Ireland. She could make having a cup of tea at her kitchen table feel special. I miss her and when I stand back to admire her crystal, I remember how welcome she made this late-to-the fold daughter-in-law feel.
“Why do you keep that old stuff?” I am sometimes asked. “The kids don’t want it.” Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. I keep it and I use it for me. Standing in the doorway making sure the table is set correctly, those three much-loved ladies are back with me again and I love it.