While I was contemplating the jumbled mess that has overtaken my virtual desktop, I rediscovered this photo that I took on Christmas day of the table setting for Christmas dinner.
The post I had intended to write wasn't really about Christmas, per se, but about family and history, and, as it has been mulling about in my brain it seemed about time to clear off the mental cobwebs and get it out of the virtual attic.
The table setting is really a mishmash of things, rough and informal, precious and formal, dainty and delicate mixed with modern. Stylistically probably not a success. But it was the mix that drew me in, the way we gather our families and our friends to our hearts, and how the bits and pieces of our histories portray bits and pieces of who we are.
The centerpiece had been on the table for weeks and I was too lazy to move it and put down a cloth. Somehow, to my mind, it all worked in a way that was perhaps more charming, if not more elegant, than if I had stripped the table down and started fresh. For a dinner filled with family we had a table filled with history.
Unfortunately the history was mostly mine as there is very little of G's family artifacts that have survived other than photographs. When his family came to the US, fleeing Austria prior to WWII, the ship containing their possessions was sunk by the Germans and they arrived with only their personal items, a few family photographs, and other small items. We have a few things, our hold on the previous generations is more tenuous with fewer tangible artificats to anchor our memories.
The centerpiece I didn't want to move was my maternal grandmother's creche set. She purchased it in Columbia, where they lived a few years when my mother was a girl. I love the rough simplicity of the set, and the wonderful figures, carved in clay with their interesting faces and dress, a fascinating blend of European and indiginous Columbian features. They remind me of my grandmother but gazing upon them also makes me think about how broad are the bonds that bind humanity, and how small those bonds make the world. I know I've shared them with you before, but this was the first year I put these figures on my dining table, and I think they are well suited to its own rustic origins, built as it is from old heart-pine boards and beams that had once been someone's home. A table with its own history to bring to our story.
But what is the rest of the story here?
The china and silver were my great grandmother's and as she died when I was young I know little of her history. I know she purchased these herself, after they had made enough money to indulge in a few nice things. Although she came from a family of means, a family who played a role in the history in this country, she abandoned it all when she eloped and ran off to Texas. Although some part of me would like to know something about those distant relatives, the fact that she chose these things herself now makes them all the more precious to me. Her choice of patterns, Varenne by Haviland, and Buttercup by Gorham, suit each other perfectly. Their delicate rose patterns remind me of her as I remember her, my Mamie, as we called her, Rose Belle Reed Wentz.
Truthfully, when I first received this china, when I was in my 20's, I didn't like it much, insisting it was not too my taste, it was too fusty and feminine. But I have mellowed with time and become more comfortable with this part of myself and my history. Perhaps I have even admitted that I like pink and gold china (don't tell anyone), but mostly I like how it connects me to those Roses who have come before me.
The crystal water goblets and the vaseline glass wine glasses were my paternal grandmother's, my grandmother Mardel, after whom I was named, Rose Belle's daughter. The smaller glasses are contemporary glasses I purchased after I was married, hand made by an artist in New Orleans. My mother was with me on that trip, a trip made all the more memorable because I shared it with her. Six generations at our Christmas table: the three Roses (Rose Belle, and two Rose Mardels) represented by the china, silver and glass, my mother's mother, Marie, in the creche figures, four generations in spirit even though my mother was not able to join us, I felt her presence there through the gathering of the family artifacts, joining the three generations at the table: G and myself; his daughter and her husband; their son, our grandson.
And no, G's family was not left out. The hand-embroidered placemats, inherited from G's grandmother, formed the foundation upon which all this history and sharing of family connections was gathered together. Six generations, two continents, one family.
We may claim that is our choices that define us but this is only partially true. We are shaped by what came before whether we chose to acknowledge it or not. Let us hold it close, joy and sorrow, lest we forget our true selves.