29 May 2013


With more frequency—and something akin to mild alarm—I glance around my home at all the possessions I've amassed over the years.  Furniture, hats, table linens, bed linens, tea towels, handkerchiefs, bandboxes filled with ladies gloves, and more china and crystal than is healthy or even safe in a cottage as small as mine.  And then there are the uncountable hard covered books.

I am blessed with siblings, a child, grandchildren, and dear friends, and into their caring hands I have often thought the dear detritus of my life might fall one day, finding a loving home.  But as I age, so too do my brothers and friends, and it becomes clear that the younger generations of my family will be the caretakers of this imposing physical legacy.

This would all be well and good except my child has entirely different taste from mine, preferring a more streamlined and modern look to my quirky Merchant-Ivory style.  (Or as a friend said once when he saw my cottage for the first time: "PBS called.... they want their sets back." Considering he worked as a propert master for the BBC, I realized there had to be some truth in this glib remark!)

And so I look around and wonder.... where will this all go?  Will there will be thrift shops playing host to my china? Will the antiques I've acquired find themselves on a table at the rear of some dusty consignment shop? Will my books, hats and ephemera be featured on jumbled tables at a flea mart?  (Perhaps this is how I'll finally be at the Brimfield Flea Market someday, albeit in absentia...) Or will my grandchildren feel as I did when my grandmothers died and want to preserve every doily, dish and mirror they can, not only as a memento of my life but of the times I lived in and the times (much further back than my own) that I admired?

This subject became even more pointed in my mind following the recent death of an elderly aunt. She was a widow and childless, and we had only 2 weeks to sort, inventory, pack and remove all her life's possessions...  deciding what to save, what to donate, what to sell, or what to give away to those few friends who had survived her.  The daughter of English-born parents, her cottage was always a haven to me. She had innumerable books about the Royal Family (including newspaper clippings about 'The Abdication'), and her china cabinet was full of precious memorabilia:  porcelain cups and plates dating from Elizabeth II's coronation and on through her subsequent jubilees and her mother's 100th birthday; Wedgewood plates honoring Churchill and Eisenhower; miniature pieces of Delftware and Spode.

The fireplace was adorned with her martingales full of horse brasses, and as a small child I was welcome to sit in the tiny mahogany chair on the hearth next to the metal foot warmer. She was always something of an historian and was a collector of books about Jefferson, Washington, or anything to do with WWII. Her glassware and china were choice and her furniture—mostly cherry—was of high quality.  In short, you walked into her small cottage (or in later years her even smaller apartment) and were immediately transported back to England, with tabletops full of of blue and white porcelain, a piping teapot on the butler's caddy, many cats underfoot, petit-point footstools and comfy wing chairs, a Gov. Winthrop secretary overflowing with correspondence, and countless framed lithographs of coaches, hostelries, and her American heroes ranging the walls.

How do you take a life and pack it up into boxes? What should be kept and what given away? Is there anyone who will care as deeply as she did about her pewter tankards, her old coal skuttle, her ginger jar lamp or her Halcyon boxes celebrating the births of Princes William and Henry.... or the one celebrating the short-lived marriage of their parents?

And so when the task was finished and her life had been sorted and packed, it prompted me to look around at my own possessions, realizing that someone will have this same task facing them one day. It made me wonder about that ephemeral quality of things and how we seem to spend so much time collecting and loving them, when in the end they always outlast us. Bereft of their owners, they will either become a burden to those who must sort, inventory and decide what to do with them, or if we're lucky, they will be a tangible memory of what mattered to us in life and what gave us pleasure.  A piece of us left behind for them to cherish. We are merely their temporary caretakers.  Or as a favorite professor used to tell me: There are no hearses with luggage racks!

The irony of course is that whoever finds him—or her—self looking after my things some day will also be looking after my aunt's, since many of them reside with me, now. The last box has been unpacked and her dear things are safe once again, having somehow found their way into my own treasure trove of flotsam and jetsam.

Perhaps the simplest solution would be a codicil in my will addressed to the BBC property master:  "They can have it all back, now."

16 May 2013

Lady in Waiting: a song of the seasons

The Masque of the Four Seasons (Walter Crane - 1903)

The lady's in waiting —
biding her springtimes, stumbling into a March gale,
willow eyes gazing from behind percale to the pale, pale of the moon.
Crystal jewels nestle in her gold-flecked hair.
(An April rain rests there.)
Soon a May sun twirls the strands into honeyed braids.
Green permeates the voice, yellow, the laugh.
A careful gaze will disclose the bells in her eyes.

The lady's in waiting
carrying with her the summer scent of lemon peel and mint leaves.
Glancing cooly into wind-chimed nights.
Is she a disguise for June evenings? with buttercups 'crosst her breasts,
elm branches in her palms, tea roses tangled in her lap,
and clover 'round her ankles?
Shining and lithe, a needle waltzes deftly with her ivory fingers
as crewel flowers unfold and an old owl appears.
Soft summer moons ride her shoulders into fall.

The lady's in waiting
holding the last limp fieldflower,
the moss around her lips making her September smiles earthy and brown;
She peers from her tower to the amber forest where Autumn is hating the birch.
Moorish gusts tumble her thoughts and curls,
their russet patterns like the descent of a brittle leaf.
She surrenders her flowery thighs to the October fog.
Her fingers press against the hesitant heart of an oak.
A late November thunderstorm washes her neck and wrists.

The lady's in waiting
waiting out her winter.
Gazing from a mantle of ginger nuts and beaver,
her snowy walk a whisper of satin footfalls, holly dangling over a cold ear.
Glinting like seaglass, her eyes search out a snowbird,
his frosty flight holding her crimson attention.
A slow blink flicks a snowflake from her eyelash.
A slow smile sheds December's fire and ice from her cheeks.
Candy canes dissolve now where once lemon ice melted.
She sits with her curtains parted to your gaze,
her galaxy eyes brimming over with the sun,
her enchanted forest mouth wooded with pine.
Lady Everything.

01 May 2013

Spring's miniature bounty

Now that Spring has arrived in earnest here in New England, we have our usual share of 'small' flowers to pick.... white and purple Violets, Grape Hyacinth, Scilla, Myrtle, Pot-of-Gold.  Diminutive visitors who venture out after so many months of grey and cold, their color and greenery a welcome carpet underfoot, growing more lush and verdant with each sunny day.

Spring's pleasures are not only small but also sumptuous—the fecund Andromeda hangs like bunches of grapes, casting its scent over the pergola as I sit and drink my first 'outdoor' cup of tea of the year; the Forsythia, filtered by sunlight, casts a golden glow over the pavement; and the Viburnum sends its intoxicating aroma onto the verandah each night.  I pluck small pieces now and then, adding height, color and scent to the tiny arrangements I sprinkle throughout the cottage. 

Once May has lengthened and the sun rides higher in the sky all this will change of course. The delicate garden will be overrun by greenery, and the once sparse carpet of blue and lavender will be hidden by waves of Phlox, Yarrow, Evening Primrose, Russian Sage and Loosestrife. Even now I see the signs:  the Catmint is up and will soon provide a bushy haven for my neighbor's cats; the Iris are setting buds and their purple flags will unfurl like a delicate honor guard along the front pathway; the Bleeding hearts are about to open, shedding a pink arc of color over the nubs of Hosta that are waiting to unwind; and the rose hedge is rapidly greening, ready for the tiny buds that will appear along each thorny branch.
All in good time.  But for now?  Now I delight in the small gifts of spring. Her miniature bounty of doll-sized flowers, gathered each morning to nest in salt shakers, cordial cups, and inkwells. Hunca-Munca bouquets to fill the house with promise. Or hang on a neighbor's doorway.