she who keeps this diary

12 April 2004 - 11:02 AM

The Gold Standard, Part II

Somehow, the Viking and I 'won' Easter in the family lottery for holiday host duties. How a pagan goth boy and a half-pagan semi-goth girl wound up with apparently permanent responsibilities for the pastel Christian holiday is beyond me, but I'm sure at least a few gods are chuckling out there.

Now, aside from Sis, most of the clan isn't greatly religious and putting on the Easter production is no more or less work than any other holiday (and when you come from the sort of family I do, holiday meals are definitely productions). Nevertheless, the pastels are hard to get around -- or at least it is a long walk.

As far as the production goes, there is a script -- more a set of commandments, really -- which directs the proceedings at Easter:

Thou shalt have a pressed tablecloth and matching napkins. To use paper or vinyl on thy table is a dishonour to the needles of thy foremothers, for lo, have they not given you napery enow?

Thou shalt use the good silver, china, and crystal. Thou shalt not eat from paper plates, nor shalt thou drink from disposable vessels, for such is an abomination in the eyes of thy kin, being tacky in the extreme.

Thou shalt have a centrepiece of real and naturally coloured flowers, for to adorn thy table with unnatural flora is tacky.

Thou shalt serve lamb, for glazed ham is forbidden by the dietary restrictions of too many of thy kin, being either too salty or too sweet, if not both.

Thou shalt serve asparagus, though all in thy clan call it 'sparragrasses.' The asparagus shall be steamed, for to prepare it otherwise would be an abomination.

Thou shalt invite all thy kin, and thou shalt not beat them, nor shalt thou shake them, however richly they may deserve it.

Thus are the ancient and honourable traditions of my people.

For the most part, these are not hard to follow. I have the necessary linens and tableware, though Use of Good Silver is a complex ritual in its own right and requires time and effort, not to mention hot water, soap, silver polish, and linen towels. I am pretty good with centrepieces, and this year's arrangement rocked, if I do say so myself. Certain menu items are set, but there is no requirement that the same five dishes be present on the table every year (unlike other holidays, where the menu is carved in stone), and while my unhallowed hands must not tamper with the Steaming of the Sacred Asparagus, methods of preparation and even the cuts of lamb are not restricted.

So, really, it's the last commandment that's the problem.

I try to be a good child most of the time and do the things I know my mother would like me to do. Therefore much against my better judgement I invited the Avuncular One and his wife to attend the Easter gathering. This I did a month ago -- and heard nothing.

Nothing, that is, until Friday, when Maman informed me that her brother had phoned her the evening before and told her that he would be coming. No mention of the wife (whom I have a hard time considering an aunt), and it is not safe to assume that where the one goes, the other follows. They have separate bedrooms, take separate vacations, and have been known to spend holidays with separate sets of kin. So it wasn't until midday Saturday, when he finally phoned me for directions, that I found out that both of them were going to be there.

Right, well, at least I know how many places to set. I had planned plenty of food, and since Mrs Avuncular One has serious food-related issues (the Viking's professional opinion is anorexia nervosa), I knew there'd be enough to go around.

Saturday the Viking and I worked like large dogs, doing housework and prep work and all that. Sunday we got up early to put on the last touches, but I was still assembling the salad when the guests started to arrive. The Viking ushered folk in, but had to scamper back out to the grill to tend to the fire, and thus it was I came out of the kitchen to find my uncle plopped in a chair, his booted feet resting on my coffee table.

Now I know the man wasn't raised in a barn. I know exactly how my grandmother would respond to feet on coffee tables in her home (by throwing a ring-tailed hissy). So why he thought this would be a good idea in my house, I can't imagine. I didn't say anything, though I imagine the look on my face did the talking for me. After the delivery of the hors d'oevres he did leave his feet on the floor, but it wasn't an auspicious start.

The primary trouble with dealing with my uncle is that he was raised by a woman who believes the sun rises and sets in his arse, and he has never seen fit to adopt a different point of view. After the feet-on-coffee-table issue was resolved, he proceeded to assert his ego by delivering monologues on a variety of topics, including but not limited to: his superiour effectiveness in dealing with his home computer technology (my brother-in-law is a software engineer and could network circles around my uncle's equipment); the stench of his neighbour's cats (Maman, Sis and I have six cats amongst us); the 'loss of peace of mind' in his neighbourhood as a result of the influx of dog owners in the last few years (this again to people who have seven dogs amongst them); his abilities as a handyman and gardener; and a riff on the delicacy of his constitution, somewhat at odds with his claims about his talents in the home improvement field. Either you are the outdoor maintenance god of Ruxton or you wilt in temperatures outside the 70-75 F range, buster -- which is it?

He also leapt up several times to make sure the door closed completely behind the Viking, who was grilling the lamb, and demanded that we fire up our furnace because he was cold. I think he was also peeved that we weren't serving cocktails, but since we were eating in the middle of the day, I didn't see offering martinis. There were also pointed questions about the origins of several items of apparent value on display, and then there was the skinned hide of the footstool.

One of the objects which came out of Grandmaman's flat last November was a large footstool upholstered with a piece of mid-Victorian Berlin wool work which I suspect was made by one of my Virginian great-great-grandmothers. The needlework was in excellent condition, and while the colours are not quite fashionable at the moment, the whole piece held considerable sentimental value as a family heirloom, and probably some monetary value as well, if presented to the right market.

My uncle had it reupholstered.

It didn't go stylistically, you see, with a wing chair he'd had recovered in some dragonfly print stuff, so he had it reupholstered to match the chair. Fortunately, the upholsterer was alert enough to recognise the value of the needlework, pried it off carefully, and returned it to my uncle with the suggestion it might be worth something. Clever creature that he is, he stuffed the canvas in a plastic shopping baggie and crammed it in a drawer somewhere until Sunday, when he dragged it out and gave it to me.

It was like being presented with the tanned hide of a well-loved family pet. There really wasn't anything appropriate to say, and I was too stunned to weep.

The upholsterer did a good job getting it off the footstool -- there is a small tear near one corner, but no other damage, and I think maybe I can repair the rip. It is possible, too, I suppose, that either an existing footstool of the correct dimensions can be found, or one can be custom-built for it (by whom I don't know -- the Viking is competent at rough carpentry, but he's no cabinetmaker). Still, I am appalled that the tapestry cover and the footstool which have been together for close to 150 years were wrenched apart in the name of coordinating with a demmed wing chair.

Thou shalt not beat thy kinfolk, however richly they may deserve it.

verso - recto

The WeatherPixie

Current Reading Past Readings Bookplate Bindery Signatures of Other Readers