It’s been three years since I posted this memory about my gracious Dutch grandmother. When families get together, it can be stressful with all the preparations and our efforts to put our best foot forward. I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with safe travel if you are traveling, and an abundance of God’s bounty and love.
This Thanksgiving I’m remembering my Dutch grandmother, Moesje we called her, who used to visit our family once a year. It was never during the summer, and always during the school year. As I think back on it, perhaps the prospect of being around four children all day long during the hot southern summers was not as inviting as knowing if she chose coming during the school year, she could better enjoy her own routines: letter writing, playing solitaire with those tiny travel sized cards and knitting. She always knitted. What a portable pastime that was.
When she came my mother used those opportunities to introduce her brood to the finer things: place settings, table scapes, the better dishes, table cloths, cloth napkins and napkin rings. We all had our own napkin ring passed down from my mother’s family and my father’s.
Once during my grandmother’s visit, I remember as we were eating our salads from our salad bowls placed above the two forks on the left, my brother went to the only fork he regularly knew, the large one directly to the left of his plate. I pointed out to him, that he was using the wrong fork. He was supposed to use the smaller one to the left of the larger one. Wasn’t I helpful?
Once again, my grandmother came to the rescue. (You can read where she rescued me on one school assignment here.) She proceeded to tell us the story of a Dutch sea captain who was invited to the royal palace in Amsterdam to dine with the queen or perhaps it was her mansion in The Hague. He was invited to dine with her for having rescued a Dutch citizen in Africa.
Now stories of sea captains always caught our attention. Several times we had taken my grandmother to New York City from our home in Essex County, New Jersey to set sail for Holland, her home before she settled with my grandfather in Mexico City. We listened because we remembered having lived up North when not only did we go to the port, board the ship to help her settle into her cabin, but I remember having tea with the ship’s captain! Oh…my grandmother had the most interesting connections!Her story told about the sea captain dining with Queen Wilhelmina. A bowl of water was placed above all the place settings. This bowl of water my grandmother explained to us was part of the place setting. It was there to provide just enough water to cleanse sticky fingers or perhaps, dip a napkin to quickly clean and remove a food spot from one’s clothing. At one point during the dinner, the sea captain picked up the finger bowl of water and drank from it. I shuddered at the embarrassment of such a gross faux pas. But then my grandmother led us through the rest of her brief story. Wondering how one could recover from such an error, she immediately put my mind at ease telling us the story’s resolution. At the same time she put my relieved brother at ease, distracting us from his not knowing his “left fork from his right.”
“How did the Queen react?” she asked us. We were hard up for any plausible answers.
She simply picked up her finger bowl and drank from it, too!”