I look down at a lacquered oval tray sitting on my mother’s desk. The flowers in the design are slightly faded. It holds a decanter and a glass ready to be used if needed. Part of what I love about my mother’s home is that the objects she surrounds herself with have a life: there’s no question from the way she places them that they have a history and their value is indisputable.
She enters the room and notices my interest in the tray. She’s always ready to tell a story if it’s pertinent. She smiles and starts, “It belonged to my grandmother. Every day at 11 a.m., Alfred—the gardener, chauffeur, and valet de chambre (he also milked the cows)—would bring the tray to wherever she was with a glass of sherry and biscuits to give her energy.” I looked at my mother in amazement. The images came to life as she told the story. “When I look at the tray,” she continued, “it reminds me of Grandmère and Alfred. It was always this tray; there were other trays, but at 11 a.m. it was always this tray.”
The object sitting there had memories, a life that no longer existed yet it still comforted and told stories of the past if you knew enough to ask.
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Celine was a name that was synonymous with good food in my home. She was my grandmother’s cook. My mother still tells me stories about watching Celine in the kitchen. Her secret, she’d say in a hushed tone, was her sauces; sauces, she’d say with emphasis, are the secret to being a great cook. Celine didn’t . . .