Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bea’s Mantelpiece

The mantelpiece in Bea’s bedroom has become so cluttered that I feel a need to clear away the bits and pieces, as well as old school photos of all five grandchildren, two consumed candles, and a thick layer of dust. Sitting here, by her bedside, I can now see what remains quite clearly:

• A photo of Wellfleet harbor at dusk.
• A photo of the Neva taken from the bow of a ship.
• A small unframed wedding photo of my parents.
• A photo of me in a round frame, sitting in a field of grain, near Geneva, when 17 and visiting cousins there, a present for my parents the year I got married and moved to France.
• A watercolor of Newcomb Hollow Beach with a chocolate-colored mat that does not match the soft beach tones, unsigned, artist unknown.
• Bea’s precious oil lamp from Greece.
• The ivory statue of a lady without her head, which Bea has “had a long time” and let me play with as a child.
• A photo of me and Sven on our first trip to Wellfleet.
• A photo of Bea in the kitchen, an unlikely choice of setting since she was not a good cook, which perhaps explains her amusement that someone should want to photograph her with a frying pan.
• A tall spray bottle of Eau de Rochas, present from cousin Alexandra.
• “The Blessing of St. Sergius of Radonezh,” an icon sent as a postcard by Serge Cheremetieff from Rome in 1968.
• A large framed photo of my brother and his wife, both smiling.
• Two crystal candlesticks.

I pick up the photo of my parents after their wedding and stare at it. The newlyweds are not touching. My father looks uncomfortable and very young. He was 41; Bea, 34. Bea smiles and seems about to say something. The wedding veil is back from her face. She wears a string of pearls and bright red lipstick. The Fortuny Delphos gown she loved so much – in red on the Internet (click Fashion, fourth model from the left) – reveals her figure and small waist.

Thanks to a Vassar friend named Louise, we can crash the party: “Your wedding was one of the merriest ones I have ever attended. Paul’s and your family were on such easy, happy terms that it made everyone doubly at their ease. I’m sorry I got no more than a glimpse of Paul, but what I did see convinced me that all will be well for your menage. Incidentally, the luncheon was delectable! Your guests devoured the delicacies with unfeigned joy. And those flowers on the mantelpiece? A stroke of genius! It was good to see your father again, as handsome as ever, and Dorothy blooming like a rose, surrounded by her rosebuds. Helen was so good to all of us. We went home thoroughly pleased despite the heat. Your gown was stunning!”

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