Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | September 19, 2014

The Honor of Your Presence


 

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am the oldest of fifty-one grandchildren. Until I was around five, other than a brother and sister, there were no other grandchildren. I am, of course, older than all my cousins, but significantly older than most. Thus I experienced our grandmother and Great Elm differently than all, and significantly differently than most.

  Mimi always welcomed you into her rooms. If she was in bed with plasters on her wrinkles, if she was saying her morning prayers, if she was packing, if she was discussing the menus for the week, if she was writing letters, if she was on the phone, her grandchildren were welcome. She always had maple sugar high in a closet somewhere among her shoes, and no matter how hard you might look for it yourself, only Mimi could ever reach up and produce it. She always had ice water in a pitcher. She always was happy to see you. She always knew a story to tell about Nancy, the young Confederate girl who helped (Cousin) General Lee, or General Stonewall Jackson, win battles against the bad, old (sometimes she said, “Damn!”) Yankee blue-bellies. She was always more proud of you than anyone she could think of when you played the piano for her, or swam underwater the whole length of the pool, or leaned to jump on a horse, or won a tennis match against anyone who wasn’t related to you, or shot a nasty old woodchuck that had been snacking in the garden.
      If you asked nicely, and if there weren’t already too many people coming, she would invite you to dinner at the Big House which was a special treat beyond imagining: because first you got dressed up in a jacket and tie and nice pants. Then you would already be sitting in the patio with your mother and uncles and aunts when Mimi came downstairs. As she entered, you stood up which made her very proud of your wonderful manners. Her high heels clacked loud on the tiles as she stepped to her seat on the sofa that rocked. And she would say, “Come sit beside me, darlin’.” So, of course, you would. Then Jeff would bring you a coke the special way he made it with Angostura bitters and a maraschino cherry. And after he had passed you your coke and everyone else their Old Fashioneds or scotches, then he would pass the hors d’oeuvres which included because he knew you were coming, peanut butter on triscuits that had been put under the broiler.
You would listen to your mother and uncles and aunts and Mimi talk about people and each other and places they’d been and were going. You would imagine being one day as old as they and joining in the conversation.
      Sometimes Uncle John was there; he was the world’s best fisherman and hunter which is what you wanted to be when you grew up if you couldn’t be a pilot in the World War II.
      After Jeff passed the hors d’oeuvres a second time, he would leave them on the coffee table in front of Mimi which meant in front of you, too. Pretty soon Mimi would say, “Jimmy, dear, would you pass the hors d’euvres.” So you got up from your seat and picked up the tray carefully with both hands and passed it around to everyone else. When each uncle and aunt took something, they would say, “Thank you, Jimmy!” and look you right in the eyes and smile. When you put the tray down, then you could help yourself to olives and triscuits with peanut butter and one cracker with deviled ham because a gentleman samples everything his host offers.
      A while later, Jeff comes back with more drinks for everyone, but this time he just has little glasses with bourbon or scotch that he pours right into everybody’s glass (but not mine – he just pours me more coke if I have finished mine already which I always do). Then he asks if you want more ice. If you do he has a small bowl of ice right there on his tray, and with big tweezers, he picks up as many cubes as you want until you say, “Thank you; that will be fine.”
      After you passed the hors oeuvres around one more time, Jeff would come back and stand in the doorway to the patio. Mimi would look up as soon as she noticed. Jeff would say, “Miz Buckley, dinnah’s suhved.” And Mimi would say, “Thank you, Boykin.” which was Jeff’s last name. And I would smile at Jeff, and he would smile at me.
      All would rise from their seats and step aside to let Mimi lead the way. If Uncle John wasn’t there, Mimi would ask you to escort her to the dining room, but when Uncle John was there, that was his job since he was the oldest son.
      Jeff would be waiting behind Mimi’s chair, and he would pull it back for her and then slide it forward as she sat. I would do the same for any aunt who was going to sit next to me. I always sit to Mimi’s left. When Uncle John is there, he sits at the other end of the table. During the week, though, when all my uncles are in New York so only Mimi, Mother, some aunts, and I are at the table, no one sits there.

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Responses

  1. I absolutely love this one. A wonderful glimpse at times long gone by–and I yearn to hear more about Mimi and the family!

    zocks to my fscwotmr*

    *r = river in case you needed a hint

  2. These memories are priceless. Such clarity in every last detail. Jim perhaps does not realize this, but he is giving the third generation (Buckleys) a precious gift.

  3. That Southern tradition – even in Connecticut – is gone with the wind.
    We’ve heard stories about Robert E. Lee being related, but cannot find the missing link…perhaps you can elucidate?

    • The connection to General Lee was, I’m sad to say, wishful thinking on my grandmother’s part.


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