Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gift of Family

With the holidays being what they are for my family, I haven’t had much time to write so my blog has suffered. But all of the out of town gifts are mailed, the cards will go out tomorrow, the cookies are in their assorted tins, the tree is standing in its splendor and there is a wreath on the door. This doesn’t even cover the church activities and the volunteer groups that have special activities. While I have not been writing, I have been pondering the season and some of the things that are part of the family traditions.

I consider Thanksgiving as the beginning of the holidays. It is my favorite because there is not all of that crass, commercial hoopla; and it is a great family time. We do a big meal with slow talking conversations and lots of trading of family stories. I have to admit, I do not identify with the cooks who complain that they cook for two days, and the meal is over in fifteen minutes. I did not grow up with that sort of rapid consumption of good food, and I have refused to let my children and guests do it either. We eat leisurely and enjoy the feast. We generally don’t do dessert until later in the day so there is plenty of time to visit and relive some of the old blessings. This year, we got into a discussion on silver wear.

My younger daughter, whom we affectionately refer to as the speaker for the house because she always said what everyone else wanted to say but were afraid to, has teased me over the years for trying to enforce gracious manners and charm in a rowdy family. I have had some success as all of my children know very well how to behave in any social situation. They do what my grandmother always said we should do. They show up appropriately dressed and behave with consideration of others, which is the basis of all good manners. The other thing that was drummed into me at an early age is that there is no excuse (nada, zero, zilch) for rudeness. Armed with this knowledge, one should be able to function well anywhere. The fact that I enjoy coupling this basic knowledge with the family heirlooms and setting a beautiful table does not make me a snob, or etiquette Nazi.

Those family heirlooms were the topic of one of our discussions. My silver ware is a combination of pieces that I inherited when I got married and pieces acquired later. My mother and father chose their silver as all young people of that day did in 1936. They liked the simplicity with just a little ornate design of Candlelight by Towle. My father split the set between my sister and I so that I had four complete placements and acquired several more as wedding gifts. Over the years, I have added to what I have so that I now have service for twelve. This is not the only pattern I have as there are tablespoons from my maternal grandmother in a lily pattern and six large dinner forks that were made by my three greats grandfather, a Philadelphia silversmith, in 1810-1815. They were the subject of our discussion. I let the grandchildren know that after I am gone they will go to their parents and on to them. I hope that the family can keep them for many generations to come. My table settings will be divided between my girls and so the tradition goes on. The grandchildren were able to see that the Thibault name was stamped into the backs of the forks. That was my mother’s maiden name. They also saw that the original four place settings were engraved with an “R” for my maiden name.

My grandchildren see all of this as novelty right now; but as the grow, I hope that they will recognize that these are not cherished for their monetary value but for what they represent, a family linked to its history. I think most people cling to some treasure that speaks to them of whom they are and where they came from. Some of the things I have tell a special story. One of those are my paternal grandmother’s sherbet spoons. These were given to my grandmother and grandfather when they married in 1905. They are about 6 inches long with a delicate round bowl. The handles are twisted and the top is a flattened moon shape with a tiny art nouveau design. The thing that I cherish most about them is that there are eleven of them. People have told me that I should try to find the twelfth one to complete the set. That how many there were in the original gift. What they don’t understand is that that absent spoon is a treasure to me and to my memory of my grandmother. Wessie Dickie was what some would call generous to a fault. I don’t agree. She loved to entertain. In fact, I had the impression growing up in her house that I was living in Grand Central Station. There were always folks about at mealtime and they always stayed to lunch or dinner. At one of her lunches, my grandmother served ice cream with her dainty spoons. These little spoons charmed one of the ladies whom she was entertaining that day so my grandmother did what was typical for her. She gave her one. That absent spoon represents my grandmother’s generous heart; her clear understanding that people are more precious than things. I want my children to get that as well.

We may bring out the china, crystal, and silver for these lavish dinners; and we may rehash their stories until the children roll their eyes; but what I want them to get is that family is what is important. I have preserves these bits for them so that when I am gone, they will remember the stories and me and the links to their own larger family. By telling these stories, my children and grandchildren have come to know my father, mother, and grandparents all of whom were gone before any of them were old enough to remember or were even born. They, too, are learning, as I did, that we are all links in a great chain. My hope is that they will not break it.

1 comment: