2002-10-18 • wee granny
grannies great and small
Behold, Lydia's grandmother:
Stunning, isn't she? fresh, full of life. I don't know this for a fact, but from this picture you can guess that this is a woman who rode recklessly in convertibles with the top down, who dated men in white dinner jackets with flowers in their buttonholes. A woman who flirted shamelessly, who drank before she was of age, who laughed and cried – sometimes simultaneously. A woman who kicked off her shoes and danced barefoot, who tore blossoms from the trees and tucked them in her hair, a woman her friends described as fun, sparkling and sweet. A woman who owned a parasol.
Behold my grandmother:
Prim and neat, sparrow-like and tidy. A woman I know for a fact who would never dream of flirting shamelessly or dancing barefoot. A woman I remember clearly warning me sternly not to smile at strange men and to stop fidgeting for goodness' sake. A woman concerned with reputations, a woman concerned that hers might also be tarnished if other members of her family somehow acquired one. A woman who never colored outside the lines, or laughed too loud or drank too much nor ever cared to. A woman who put the blossoms (not torn spontaneously from a tree, but selected carefully from the florists shop) in fine china vases, in the dead centre of the table, where they belonged.
My Granny Carter was never really given to emotion. She did not pinch our cheeks or ruffle our hair or call us by pet names. She did buy us expensive things, useful, practical, age appropriate things. And beautiful things. She loved beautiful things, delicate things, good quality things. Pedigree.
She had four grandchildren. My brother Scott and me, and my two cousins Tanis and Shawna. We all have complete sets of fine bone china that were gifts from granny, her legacy. I picked mine out, unaided, at thirteen and by some miracle, managed to pick out a classic line, a beautiful line that I adore to this day. Royal Doulton's Saraband. I have everything, serving dishes and full service for twelve, shining silver flatware and these cunning little double handled soup bowls. Saucers, teacups, a butter dish.
I've spent hours arranging them just so and when I set the table for special occasions I think of her and I smile.
No, she wasn't affectionate. She didn't bake cookies, but made complicated, sculptural gelatin salads and the blandest chili imaginable. She dressed impeccably and fashionably right up until the day she died, in quality clothes from quality shops.
She didn't have much of a sense of humour, but she was sharp and intelligent and always well informed. She could converse on any topic and travelled the world. Not just to Arizona and Hawaii, but to the interior of China, to Spain and Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand, India, Thailand and South Africa.
Her penchant for exotic travel always seemed at odds with my image of her, an uncoventional interest for a woman who thrived on convention. I've come to realize since that inside the determined, imacculate tiny nut of a woman was a hunger to learn and see that was kind of radical for a woman of her generation and breeding. She wasn't particularly sweet, and she wasn't particularly pretty, but she was smart. And that was a bit daring for her time.
And that is what makes me smile when I hold one of those cunning little soup bowls or polish the tea service. Aside from my weeness of stature, I look nothing like her. My packaging is much messier. I take after her son, my father, fair hair, fair skin and fair eyes. Quick to laugh, pleasure-seeking, a teensy bit lazy and wholly ignorant of time. But I like to think my eye for beauty comes from her and that I've inherited her quick mind and taste for the exotic. And that's as good a legacy as a fine set of china, as good a legacy as one could desire.
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