At Gampa’s Table

I had Easter dinner this afternoon with a cousin who took his first steps around this  table of long ago.  He is now in his early 60s, I am just 70.  The warm tones of the old color photo let you know at once this must be the 1950s.

Belle Porter, Gampa’s English downstairs “lady” [you could never call them maids – they were the ladies] would serve the food with her pince-nez balancing delicately on her nose and making corrections to my childish actions in low, kindly tones.  Meat was on a silver parsley-ringed platter; green vegetables looked stunning in a silver bowl, and the mashed potatoes were peaked to perfection.  I now know that the only beef served there was aged and what a treat.  Lamb was not served with mint jelly.  No it was served with home made mint sauce and it was warm and sweet.

Grandmother had died the year I was born so my father sat at the head of the table opposite Gampa.  He was weak on one side due to a brain tumor so his foot lay heavily at times on the “buzzer”‘  beneath the carpet Grandmother used to touch to ring Belle for the next course.  Poor Belle, she popped in and out like a cuckoo when Dad hit that buzzer multiple times by mistake.

There were nothing but arm chairs at Gampa’s table.  He felt it was not very democratic for a host and hostess to have the only comfortable chairs with arms. He therefore  had an antique chair he favored copied eleven times by an old Rochester firm named Hayden hat specialized in reproductions.

A word about the silver loving cup in the center of the table. Gampa hated people who went as guests to peoples’ homes and commented on the contents therein.   One poor guest asked what the silver thing was in the middle of the table.  Gampa looked at him and said slowly and calmly: “my father’s ashes; like them near me when I eat.”

My brothers and another male cousin are all living out-of-town with large and growing families of their own but cousin Curtice and I hold down the fort here in Rochester.  We no longer have dinners at one of our homes but at the retirement home where he lives.  It is lovely and we have our even lovelier, warm memories.  We are blessed to have one another and to have learned about the lasting value of family and not “things” at Gampa’ s table.

At Great Grandmother’s Table in Ormond Beach, FL ca 1920

My Great Grandfather had a home on the Halifax River in Ormond Beach, Florida where he lived winters.  He was a Scottish merchant and other Scottish merchants had homes near him.  They called themselves “the Scottish Syndicate.”  The home was called Rowallan after a castle in his native Ayrshire.

Above is my Great Grandmother’s table at Rowallan (ca 1915). The centerpiece appears to be flowers and fruits.  These round tables are making a comeback now but with one difference: they are constructed so that you can add leaves around the outside to expand them if you wish.  Otherwise, they might be ungainly in today’s interiors.

There was a small orange grove on the property.  When the house was sold, the appraiser, in trying to devalue the place for tax purposes said: “it must have cost one dollar per orange to produce fruit in that grove.”  In other words, it wasn’t set up for economies of scale!

You could eat fruit al fresco in the grove as my cousins did here:

Or you could eat it at table using a citrus spoon with enameled orange blossoms.  This is a spoon actually used at Roallan.  It was the gift of a cousin in the family pictured above.  She was the youngest and is not pictured.

We know for certain that wild turkey was on the menu at the house.  Here is a picture of my young father (ca 1925) with one that had just been shot.  We must remember that Florida in those days was not developed to the extent it is today and so wild turkeys were not far away.

We are fortuate to have these pictures and some artifacts from those days almost a century ago.   There were seven children in the family and so a spoon is a treasure!

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