My Grammy was the most fun. Tall, boisterous, confident, joyful. In my memory, she was the life of the party and the heart of the family. She came from a big family, too (those first-generation Swedish Americans had lots of kids and loads of relations).
My Grammy's house was small and full of life. And I remember it with near-perfect accuracy—the layout, the carpet, the decorations... and the dining room.
A fantastic, textured, metallic wallpaper lined the dining room walls, and I loved to run my hand across it as I walked by, helping my Grammy set the table...the thick green shaggy carpet soft under my feet.
My maternal grandparents Harold and Helen Johnson, on their wedding day
She always set the table. Every time we gathered together outside of breakfasts in the kitchen. And it was always magic.
She had little crystal dishes for jello and salads and an entire buffet full of glasses of all sizes… for custards, and cider, and coffee, and pudding.
And mirrors. I remember her collection of tiny little mirrors of circles and squares she would layer about the center of the table. Reflecting the light... and calling forth an 'EVENT' about to begin. It was fun, and festive, and always... magic.
My mom's tables are the same. Absolutely delightful. They remind me so much of my Grammy: Absolutely delightful. She uses tablecloths and linen napkins; silver, china, candles, and dishes. Dishes, upon dishes… upon dishes, upon dishes.
I love it. Every bit of it. We've never spoken of the connection specifically, but I know doing it reminds her of her own mom. And knowing this fills me with the greatest satisfaction.
But about me: I'm not as good at the relishing. I feel awkward in the serving, and I prefer to use as few dishes as possible. (I mean, literally as few as possible).
I like to make the table cozy… I really do. I light candles almost every night, and I prioritize eating together as a family every single day. But the extras often escape me...
Still, though. A few times a year, I like to really SET IT UP. The whole table. It feels festive and special, and it pulls forward the past to the present. I use dishes, and linens, and candles, and layers. And I really do enjoy setting it all in place.
My Christmas table
Sure, it's a lot more rustic and practical than my forebears… but it's personal, particular, and quietly memorable. And I relish the connection through time.
This year I'll be layering in a little piece of 'me,' using my very used and humble collection of adored cutting boards as chargers under my everyday dinner plates. I'm using the mixed and matched silverware I've collected from yard sales over time and a set of handblown stemware I purchased on a road trip through Florida at a Jewish senior center thrift store in Boca Raton. I'm using a tablecloth, but I'm leaving it 'undone,' and I'm nestling another piece, a delicate crochet, down the center.
But a few times a year, I MEET the moment. I take my time, I fix and fit, and layer in the pieces.
And I delight, remembering the line: Helen, and Donna, myself, and maybe someday my Inga.
In her own way, in her own time.
Sebastopol, California 2022