Saturday, October 2, 2010

St. Augustine sounds like a very cool place, Opus 3

This was my grandmother's china. To my knowledge, my grandmother never saw St. Augustine, but her china came to live here and the story is in some ways quintessentially St. Augustinian. Connections, connections...

In the year of our marriage, I worked at the Booksmith (of blessed memory). We had an honored regular customer (the sort of person we thought of as a sort of Friend of the Store) named Marilyn, a smart, funny woman who valued fine writing and good books, and was an active patron of the arts community in St. Augustine. She'd been widowed fairly recently, though her husband had been an invalid for some years and I had the impression she'd been much younger than he was. I also had the impression that whether through his means or her own she lived comfortably after he died, as though money wasn't something she worried about. That seemed luxurious to me but I didn't give it much thought. Marilyn wasn't the kind of person to make you think about distinctions of class or money: she was warm and open and unafraid, with a ready laugh, rich enough to pull you into its circle. She was drawn, physically, on generous lines and dressed in bold, vivid colors, set against the brightest lipsticks. I liked her on sight and never changed my mind.

The summer of our wedding drew on toward the September date. We were an untraditional wedding couple in many ways. We were both long gone forth from the homes of our parents, and we'd lived together for several years. Neither of us had living mothers to create the framework (or hysteria) of some weddings. So our wedding, as I have mentioned here, was planned and executed by our own ingenuity and the breathtaking generosity of our families and friends. We were registered nowhere; there was no list of desired small appliances, no selected patterns of silver or china. In any case the only china I wanted was the simple pattern of my childhood - the cheery pink roses of my grandmother's Franciscanware. But my grandmother was gone and I had no connection with my father, and in any case, there were bigger fish to fry. My friend Tracey was making my dress; my aunt would make the lovely wedding cake. Rodney's brother would pay for the beer, and his oldest childhood friend furnish the limo. You know all this; I've told you the tale before. And it was pretty much all I talked about, as brides do, and there on the corner of Charlotte Street and Cathedral Place, I talked about it with all the Booksmith regulars. They listened, told their own wedding stories, wished us well, and bought their books.

In northeast Florida August steamed its way toward what I'd hoped would be a cooler late September. On one of those August afternoons, a stately burgundy-colored Cadillac passed through our neighborhood, the dust of the dirt road settling lightly on the polished paint of the car. It circled by once, and then approached again slowly, the driver clearly trying to locate a specific address in those days before GPS systems and in-car navigation. Suddenly it was in our driveway, and to my complete astonishment, Marilyn was getting out. And she was unloading packages, waving off my bewilderment: just dropping these off for you, dear, I know you're getting married, estate sale, great bargain, couldn't pass it up, wedding and all...

"But, but, wait," I babbled, "how did you know? How did you find our house? How..."

"Oh, you mentioned something about the china pattern, you know, and Diana gave me directions. It was such a great deal, I could hardly pass it up, and after all, you ARE getting married, and I hope you'll be VERY happy..." and in a cloud of dust and kindness she was gone. I stood in the doorway, looking around me at plates and platters and teacups, all bearing the small pink roses and green leaves of my grandmother's every day dishes. Here they were. Here they were, found, bought and delivered to me out of nothing more than kindness. It would have been lovely to have the actual dishes from Grandmother's cupboards. But I wasn't sure it wasn't somehow even more wonderful to have these pieces, conjured out of kindness.

After the wedding we spent a week in western North Carolina, where Rodney's Uncle Sam had what the family charmingly called a "cabin". (It was actually a modest but comfortable A-frame house, equipped with every amenity right down to a dishwasher.) On one of the days of that week, we drove over to east Tennessee to visit my Aunt Beverly, my father's sister. Like my father, Aunt Bev-o is gentle and sweet by nature and Rodney and I spent several lovely hours with her. And when we drove back to Crossnore, we carried a couple of boxes of Franciscanware across the mountains with us. Aunt Bev-o had been saving Grandmother's dishes and she gifted them to us. Close examination reveals the hand of my beloved little cousin, Aunt Bev-o's daughter, in the making of this arrangement. The beautiful pieces Marilyn had given me were united with the ones that had been taken for granted in Grandmother's kitchen. They've been in daily use ever since, but the story doesn't end there.

Fast forward about 10 years, and I am on a long, driving business trip with a colleague and friend, Miss Inga. With miles to cover and a long-standing easiness between us, we talk the hours away with gossip and jokes and confidences. I ask her about how she came to live in St. Augustine, her marriage to a respected local musician, her family, all in very general terms. She tells me that she came to St. Augustine because her beloved father owned a condo here. (He is a story all on his own, but not my tale to tell.) When Miss Inga was extricating herself from a bad marriage, and dealing with her father's death more or less at the same time, she came to St. Augustine and lived in the condo. She felt comfortable here. She'd visited before and in fact had a treasured friend here, a woman who'd been a friend of Miss Inga's father for many years, going back into Miss Inga's childhood. A woman who had been almost a mother-figure to Miss Inga, herself. A woman named Marilyn.

St. Augustine sounds like a very cool place, huh? Everything comes round again on itself. Does this happen where you live?


  1. As we were leaving town last night, we drove down Bridge Street, and pablo mentioned he had seen Marilyn that very day, first time in some months. The circle is open, but unbroken...

  2. I love stories like this. What generosity of heart! And that is what I have always found in St. Augustine.

  3. Jayne, dear: may the circle ALWAYS remain unbroken (and that goes for you, too, Ms. Moon)!

    And Ms. Moon: it's a funny old town. Part of me thinks it's the small-town factor but another part of me realizes there's something unique about the convergence of small town, artistic influence, and newcomers who've stayed and become fixtures. Much love from here to Lloyd.


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