On the Small Pleasure Project: The Blue Vase Rumination

04Oct08

In which The Gay Recluse remembers his grandparents.

Of our four grandparents, the only one we knew at all was our grandmother.

And even she died when we were very young.

Our evil uncle stole almost everything she owned, but our father managed to keep a few things, including this blue vase, which he in turn gave to us.

Sometimes we wonder about her life, and wish that we knew more.

She was raised in an orphanage in Quebec, but somehow made it to Boston, where she met our grandfather. He was not an educated man but worked his way from the mail-room to an executive position in a pretty big corporation; this of course was a long time ago, before the United States became an aristocracy!

Less heroically, he was an alcoholic and a gambler and a womanizer.

And a racist and an anti-Semite! (In short, a McCain Nixon supporter.)

We can remember him swearing at the television during the Watergate trials. By then he was an old man, hacking and wheezing.

There was much speculation that our grandmother was happy when he finally died. (It’s safe to say that not many tears were shed at his funeral.)

But as so often happens, our grandmother was also an alcoholic by that point. And a racist and an anti-Semite. It was as if he had rubbed off on her after so many years of marriage.

Yet she was not such a horrible person — or so we like to believe — at least compared to her husband. She had closets filled with fabulous dresses going all the way back to the twenties! She spoke French to the waiters in Miami. She had the most wonderful pillows strewn everywhere in her Ft. Lauderdale house. She collected blue glass. And she loved chameleons!

All that’s left of her now — at least for us — is this blue vase.

As the sun streams though, it seems to cleanse her of her most serious flaws. We imagine a poor girl arriving in Boston, with little choice but to latch on to the brutish yet charismatic man who was our grandfather. Today it might have happened differently; there’s no reason to think she ever really wanted to get married or have children.

As time passes, we remember the mysterious qualities of her life, and think of her as filled with a sense of longing and sadness that — like her blue vase — was somehow passed to us.

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2 Responses to “On the Small Pleasure Project: The Blue Vase Rumination”

  1. Lovely piece. In some ways, only some, it brings to mind my own grandmother and grandfather. Thanks. And thanks, too, for all the pieces that I have NOT had time to comment on….

  2. 2 c.

    Beautiful, in The Gay Recluse manner.

    Clearly, a reminiscence like yours resonates with more than a few people, especially those of immigrant ancestry. Our pedigrees are significantly different, at least on the surface, but I, too, was born with only one, surviving grandparent, a grandmother. She lived in Queens, in what seemed, to me, in my childhood, like a magical apartment, filled with treasures very much evoked by your blue, cased-crystal vase. I have her wedding band, which I’ve worn (on my right hand) for 30+ years (she had big hands); an art-deco torchiere (which was inexpensive, I’m certain, but a beautiful archetype, nonetheless); and a striking, fringed and beaded silk appliqué she sewed by hand. This piece was used as a closure on a dress she’d also sewn for herself, for going out dancing, in the Twenties (about a decade after her arrival in the U.S.). Apparently, she was quite the seamstress, and quite the social dancer. The dress is long gone, but the appliqué remains, a testament to a vigorously creative mind, which I sadly did not get to know.

    Her carefully sewn, multi-colored, deco beadwork is like your neglected, tessellated, Washington Heights foyers: a talisman, conjuring entire worlds, and lives, of craftsmanship, internal aesthetic standards, and a search for joy and dignity in the chaos, upheaval, and constraints of early 20th-century, immigrant life.

    Thanks, as usual, for bringing me back so adeptly, to a potent, personal memory.


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