“As long as I can remember, Eloise Colgate has been as rich as potting soil,” Cora Mansfield said to her friend Constance Tanglewood as the two looked across the church lawn at the impeccably dressed and groomed Eloise moving about like a hostess at a Kentucky Derby social.
It was homecoming at the church. As always, Mrs. Colgate was flitting about involving herself in everyone’s conversation.
“She has more money than she knows what to do with,” Constance commented as she brought a plastic fork overflowing with coleslaw from her plate to her mouth.
“She’s always bringin’ her food in silver serving dishes as if this were some Episcopal weddin’ instead of a Baptist homecoming. Makes me sick,” Cora whispered. “She’s jus’ showin’ off. If I weren’t such a lady, I’d tell her just what I thought of her and her fancy servin’ stuff.”
“Oh, sure you would,” Constance responded.
“I’d do it in a minute. I swear I would.”
“Well, get ready, Cora. Here comes your chance.”
Eloise Colgate floated over to the two ladies.
“Marvelous day for a homecoming, isn’t it?” Mrs. Colgate announced.
“Oh, yes,” Cora agreed. “Constance and I were just commenting on how lovely your silver serving dish looks on the table. Weren’t we, Connie?”
“I think you were pretty much carryin’ the conversation, Cora dear,” Constance said. “I was too busy recalling the significance of Reverend Green’s sermon today on not coveting thy neighbor’s possessions.”
Cora smirked at her friend.
“Oh, the serving dish does look magnificent,” Eloise enthusiastically agreed. “It’s part of an entire set. I could write a book about that silver.”
“I’m sure you could,” Constance said, knowing that Mrs. Colgate always preceded every lengthy story about her ancestors association with historical figures with the statement ‘I could write a book about . . . ’ She could fill the Library of Congress to full capacity during one of her recitations.
“During Sherman’s raid across the South,” she began. “My Great Grandmother Katherine Diana McAllister found herself in dire straits. With my grandfather, Henry Archibald McAllister, serving the Southern Cause, she was left to oversee their magnificent estate. When the Yankees stormed the property, she asked Elijah, Granddaddy Archibald’s manservant, to salvage the family’s silver by burying it in the low grounds. There it remained until that heartbreaking, yet honorable surrender in Gettysburg. And now, I have the entire set. That silver serving dish is not merely a container for holding my award winnin’ recipe for scalloped potatoes, but it’s a monument to my ancestral history.”
“Goodness, Cora,” Constance said to her friend. “You brought brownies on a paper plate. That says a lot about your ancestral history, doesn’t it?”
“And how long has your Tupperware bowl you brought your potato salad in been in your family?” Cora Mansfield bit back.
“I’ll let you know that years of future generations will be keeping their leftovers fresh in their Great-great Aunt Connie’s antique Tupperware.”
“Well, isn’t that special,” Eloise Colgate commented. “A very special story all together. Have a lovely Sunday afternoon, ladies. I mustn’t tarry.”
With that, Mrs. Colgate moved across the church lawn towards the tent where her silver serving dish would create more conversation through her own initiation.
“I mustn’t tarry,” Cora mocked. “Who says ‘tarry’ anymore? She talks like a character in a Dicken’s novel. Too bad ol’ Archibald’s manservant couldn’t didn’t bury her in the low grounds.”
Nothing gives us Southerners more pleasure than serving a Thanksgiving turkey on a platter that once belonged to a great-great aunt. We love to snuggle beneath a quilt from out great-great grandmother who saved it by securing it beneath her hoop skirt while fleeing during the burning of Atlanta. If it is old, we love it. If it is old and has a story behind it, the sense of our own worth seems even greater. And if there is no story, we just might be inclined to make one up and tie it somehow to the Civil War.
We Southerners love to tell house guests about the origins of quilts and china and innocently enhance the stories surrounding each item. But as I get older, I foresee a dilemma in this passing of family history from one generation to the next. If you stop and think about it, Grandma’s quilt and Granddaddy Beuregarde’s pocket watch are really all we can talk about and will be all our children and children’s children will be able to talk about years from now. Why? Because present generations aren’t contributing much to our family’s heritage?
Where’s the first sofa you and your wife bought when you were setting up housekeeping? Yep, it wore out and you took it to the Salvation Army a month or two after your sixth wedding anniversary. Where’s the first set of china you got? Well, it was actually Corelle instead of china and you eventually sold it all in a yard sale.
Where are the photographs we’ve taken throughout the past fifteen years? I think most of them are still in our cell phones unless you’ve posted them on Facebook.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as a disposable society, but somehow that’s what we have become.
It is a bit scary to think that we might contribute nothing to the memorabilia that makes up our family’s history. What great-great granddaughter in the year 2050 will be interested in displaying her great-great grandmother’s broken food processor or her blow dryer or her Sam’s Club membership card in a curio cabinet in the dining room? They just don’t hold the same historical flavor as a churn or a spinning wheel or a rolling pin.
What great-great grandson will want to show off his great-great grandfather’s broken electric razor or his collection of 8-track tapes? They just don’t have the same flare as a pocket watch from the railroad, or a hand-hewn walking stick, or a barn he built which is still standing.
How far back will your future generations have to go to connect with their past? Will we even be remembered or will they have to go all the way back to their great-great-great grandmother Katherine Dianna McAllister’s silver serving dish to find their roots?
Take some time to whittle something out of wood or make a few doilies or just start putting the names and ages on the back of printed photographs. Don’t let Generation X stand for Generation Extinct. It is up to us to bridge the past with the future instead of creating a worthless void in our family’s history.