I had a little dinner last night because the bride and groom are visiting. It did not look exactly like the picture below because that photo is from a Thanksgiving dinner at my old house. But if you take the dishes and the crystal and, in your imagination, put seven of those place settings on the table in the next picture, you'll get the idea.
The china was given to me by my mother and the crystal used to be my step sister's. After the divorce when I moved from a large kitchen to a tiny one, it was easy to see I wouldn't have space for the fancy things and the every day dishes, so I left the everyday dishes right where they sat. Except for a set of bright red breakfast bowls and coffee mugs, the china is my only dish ware. Even a piece of toast and a glass of orange juice gets served up as if it were paté and champagne. So last night's dinner of chili and salad and warm bread and chicken apple sausage got the usual rather luxe treatment.
One of the couples at dinner has known my daughter since she was a baby, the other for more than a decade. I still find myself somewhat stunned by the idea that my daughter is a grown woman with a husband of her own. That baby, that little girl, the teenager all seem present, too, but just out of reach--as if she were a set of matryoshka dolls forever sealed shut. The past versions of her are there and simultaneously forever gone.
That's the way I feel about my father, too--dead now for decades longer than I knew him. I keep a lot of old family photos around, and I sometimes feel that those dead people I loved are looking out of the pictures at me. As if they, too, are present in a way but inaccessible.
A couple of months ago this photo below of my grandmother (she's seated in the center) surfaced in some kind of historic display from an old department store in Dubuque, Iowa. I suppose she's a few years older here than I am now--but maybe not much. Last night at the dinner table when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I saw a silver-haired lady with big eyes, and I thought of this picture. I never used to think I resembled my grandmother, but now I see her in my mirror as if she's been inside me all along, waiting to come out.