Washing Ewer and Bowl

Antique pottery bowl and ewer used for washing. These are not a set. One belonged to my mother’s maternal and the other to her paternal grandmother. They are delicate, so it’s easy to understand that a set might not survive.

In houses without plumbing, most houses at the time these were made, water was kept ready in the pitcher for morning wash-ups in the bedroom. The piece of furniture the bowl sat on was called a commode. It had a rack for a towel, sometimes a mirror, and a chamber pot was kept in the cabinet. I’m eternally grateful to have been born well after a commode was necessary!

My mother’s two grandmothers were very different. The one was stout and looks in pictures as if she likes to cook – she often wears an apron. The other was very thin. Mother said when they visited her father’s family, she was sometimes chosen to sleep with her grandmother. The bed was high and difficult for a young girl to climb into. Mother would cling to the edge, hoping not to fall out, but worried she’d roll over in the night and squash her grandmother.

BTW, the flowers, sadly, are fake.

Ceramic Bowl / Guest Post

Our First Guest Post, from the family of Cat Lazaroff.
This bowl was made by my great-great-grandmother, Jeannette Garr Washburn Kelsey, more than 100 years ago. Jeannette was, according to my grandmother, quite a hellraiser, traveling the world, trying the latest fads. She was also obsessed with our family’s link to the Scottish clan Sinclair, through James Sinclair, the black-sheep son of the Earl of Caithness. James left Scotland to fight in the American Revolutionary War, then worked merchant ships that traveled to Spain, South America, all round the Atlantic.

I’d heard this story from my grandmother and in 1996 went to my first Scottish festival, in Fergus, Ontario. In the Sinclair booth I scanned the genealogy chart for a name from the stories: William, the 10th Earl of Caithness. Couldn’t find him. Was my memory faulty? Still crouched in front of the framed chart, I pulled out my cell phone and called Grandmommy.

“He married a Kelsey? Nope, no Kelseys listed.” When I snapped the phone shut, the kilted man in charge of the booth came forward. “Did I hear you say you’re descended from the Kelseys?”

Somehow I’d managed to come to the one Scottish festival in the world where someone had heard our story. Rory Sinclair not only knew of the disinherited Sinclair son, he’d actually tracked down a copy of Jeannette’s 1904 vanity-published account.

Thanks to that encounter, my Grandmommy and I both have photocopies of A Diverted Inheritance, an odd mix of fictionalized true-love story and supportive research, including letters between Jeannette and various members of Clan Sinclair.

After my grandfather died, I helped Grandmommy move to a much smaller apartment. Among the items that didn’t make the move was this bowl. It’s chipped, imperfect, not exactly beautiful. But inside it nestles a note, written on the back of one of Grandmommy’s business cards, in her own brisk hand:

The bowl is the only one of Jeannette’s ceramics to survive, as far as I know. I’ll keep it safe, and someday maybe I’ll give it – along with my photocopy of Jeannette’s book, and the story of James Sinclair – to another generation.

Cat now lives in Maryland and is a writer.

West Virginia Flowers

West Virginia wildflowers in April. I don’t know their names, but the flowers below are tiny, none more than an inch.

My parents both loved flowers. Daddy made beds of them around our house: lobelias, sweet alyssum, salvia, petunias, and geraniums. Mother carried a book that identified wild flowers when we traveled or camped: columbine, fireweed, scarlet paintbrush, queen anne’s lace, buttercup.

There was one flower, however, that was anathema: the dandelion. Daddy said it ruined the lawn and waged ongoing war against it. Home from work, in his suit, he’d grab one of Mother’s kitchen knives and dig up any offenders. Mother always said he ruined her best knives in the dirt, so one year for Father’s Day he got his own Dandelion Knife.

Antique Bell

1878 Saignelegier bell. Research turned up this: Bevin Bros. Mfg. Co. of East Hampton, Connecticut USA, has made these bells for many decades. According to their brochure:

“These Swiss cow and sheep bell reproductions are hand cast from mold patterns found in the Bevin Bros. factory almost 100 years ago. Each bell is cast from bronze in the pattern of the famous 1878 Saignelegier bell, which, legend tells, comes form the town of the same name.”

Don’t know if this an original or a reproduction. I do know it’s LOUD. It lived in the basement and we kids were forbidden to ring it unless outside. I thought it had something to do with Daddy’s navy experience, but no, it’s for cows…

Our best bell story centers around a crystal bell my parents received as a wedding gift. (What is it with weddings that call forth bells. My husband and I got one too. To call the servants? The kids?) Somewhere along the years, the clapper broke off. No matter. Daddy kept it in the bathroom and used it for a glass when he brushed his teeth!

Greek Treasure Dish

Small pottery container bought in Greece. Incised with a Greek woman playing a harp. Bottom mark: “Copy of Classic Period 500 B.C. Hand Made Greece.” Inside a lovely aqua-grey.

Mother and I traveled together often. Aunt Sylvia (she of the carnival glass dish elsewhere on this site ) was Mother’s usual travelling companion but she fell and couldn’t make the Greek tour. So my brand new manager at my brand new job gave me time off. (One of the best managers I ever had.) We had a blast, two weeks of traipsing through Greece with fabulous, knowledgeable guides.

I don’t remember what town we were in, but Mother was buying souvenirs and, as usual, selection was taking a while. I wandered out into the street to discover that there was a marching band coming, dressed in those white pleated Grecian skirts you see in pictures, with a drum major up front. I knew Mother would want pictures so I ran back into the shop.

Asking the shop keeper to hold this little container, Mother rushed out into the street and, walking backwards, took her pictures. I have looked for a copy of that photo, but it eludes me. So you’ll just have to imagine a short energetic woman, salt-and-pepper hair, camera in front of her eyes, walking backwards down a Greek street while the band plays and marches.

Glass Mobile

Hand-blown glass mobile. Strung on fishing line and hung from a clear plastic disk. The glass pieces vary from two to four inches

My sister and I found the it while walking in NYC’s Village where I lived for a time. An art weekend, the streets spilled with paintings hung on fences, sculpture, and piles of crafts. The mobile cost more than we could afford but we bought it anyway, knowing our parents would love it. My father, a wonderful architect, designed our mid-century modern house, very spare and wonderful. The mobile fit right in and was hung in the living room for all to see what great taste my parents’ daughters had. (Or so I felt then…)

One Christmas it almost bit the dust. Mother always made the house festive and as part of her decorations, she tied little red bows to each glass. She was cutting off the bows when she snipped the fishing line. Luckily she caught the glass before it fell. Our fisherman Daddy had the line handy and restrung it good as new.

When my parents died and the house was sold, the mobile didn’t convey. It now hangs in my living room where it continues to be treasured. By the way, my house is 1937 colonial but it looks right at home.