Standing on tip-toe, I retrieved these treasures from the top shelf of a cabinet. The hand-painted cups and saucers were swathed in cobwebs and layered with grime. When we were little, my mother would let us drink cocoa out of them. As I washed and dried, my mother took me on a meandering tale that led from our roots in the Austrian empire, to the story of a servant girl’s forbidden relationship with a young man who had an education and a promising future. It seems that my grandmother Vera was unable to fully recover from shock after she was told the truth about her birth mother. As the woman who had raised my grandmother lay dying, Vera learned that her real mother was Tante Helena (Aunt Helen), a woman who had always lived with the family. From the outside, Tante Helena appeared to be an extended family member. But in truth, she functioned as domestic help and spent her life assisting in the running of the household.
It occurs to me that in that time of corsets and clothing that covered most everything, so too were the emotions in my grandmother’s house bound and hidden. I cannot even imagine living like that. Can you?
But stories of unrequited love aside, the delicate beauty of these family treasures continues to enchant me. And I wonder about how my childhood exposure to such exquisite craftsmanship has influenced my aesthetic. Their influence is my inheritance, I am certain.