Today, looking for a serving ladle in the center drawer of the sideboard, I realized that something was lodged at the very back, out of sight and tightly wedged in an odd position that made it difficult to retrieve. After some careful working back and forth, it fianlly came free in my hand, which I pulled back to see a small pastry server with a mother-of-pearl handle and silver-plated blade. It had probably been years since I'd held it, but I recognized it at once. It was the keepsake that Carrie Baker had given Robert and me when we moved away from Savannah, where we lived for a year and a half when we first married.
We had the second floor of a big Victorian house on Gaston Street, and Carrie, then eighty, and her sixty-year-old daughter Marjorie Royce lived downstairs. Our apartment was furnished with a cast-iron-and-glass table and chairs meant to be used on a patio, a loveseat that had belonged to Robert's grandmother, a new Henredon breakfront big enough to camp in, a very small Karastan rug in oddly vivid shades of aqua and gold, two glass-fronted Victorian bookcases we bought from a neighbor of my parents, and miscellanous contributions from well-meaning relatives. When Marjorie came upstairs to visit us the the first time, she actually winced, probably because the apartment she shared with her mother was decorated with family portraits and antiques, oriental rugs, a wonderful collection of Regency miniature portraits, Staffordshire and Dresden figures, and what Marjorie called "country Chippendale" that she'd tracked down in the cottages sitting among the piney woods and swamps surrounding Savannah.
I think that the women, both widows, both descendants of two families who'd come over on the Mayflower, found twentyish newlyweds and their "eclectic" lifestyle somewhat puzzling, but they couldn't have been nicer. Marjorie tried to mentor me in the cultivation of Boston ferns (a failed endeavor) and carried me around town to meet the curators of various historic houses and watch as she intimidated various antiques dealers (including the later-to-be-infamous Jim Williams of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame). Carrie baked the best gingerbread cookies - thick, cake-like, gingery slabs frosted with white sugar icing, smiled tolerantly whenever Marjorie slipped into one of her "snit fits", and wore an air of sweetness that made every day seem full of good possibilities.
As I held Carrie's pastry server in my hand, it all came back to me so vividly that we were once again in the tiny elevator that rose from the ground-floor parking area, past Marjorie and Carrie's kitchen and up to the large screened porch that lined the back of our second-floor apartment, once again smelling the aroma of Marjorie's yeast rolls, once again admiring the sheen Marjorie's Jack-of-all-trades put on her fireplace brass, once again were enveloped in the scent of the wax he used on the furniture. And all because on a cold February day, when we were little more than kids, a kind and lovely woman gave us a keepsake. It may be true that, in the overall scheme of life, things don't matter, but memories do and it's often the objects that trigger tham.