My paternal grandparents had a marvelous life in the Navy. My grandfather graduated from the Naval Academy in the class of 1900 and, despite the frequent separations, they had a happy married life. My grandmother used to love to say with a twinkle, "Navy wives are happy half the time; I'm not saying which half."
In their day, even junior officers rated help in the house and they were posted to some pretty interesting places. Early in their marriage, my grandfather was on one of the battleships that sailed in 1907-09 around the world in Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet. Speak softly but carry a big stick; those huge white battleships were the big stick.
My grandmother followed the fleet all around the world to all kinds of exotic ports - Egypt, Hawaii, China, Japan, India, Australia. We still have her ticket, which reads "From New York to San Francisco, via Suez." I have a photograph of her and two other ladies in their long dresses and enormous hats riding camels in Egypt. My grandmother told me about that day, saying, "I rode a camel to the Pyramids. Nasty, smelly animals - I took the train back!"
After they returned from that trip, my grandfather served on a ship, the USS Monongahela, which took him to France; Grandma followed along on a passenger liner. When they took a few days together in Paris, he said, "Josie, I want to buy you a mink coat," but she demurred in favor of this set of French china. Every single woman in our family, without exception, thinks she made the right choice.
Last week while I was visiting their daughter Aunt Virginia, the keeper of the family china, she allowed me carefully to take out a place setting to photograph it for the family archives. Richly blue and gold with raised decoration, it is truly glorious stuff. My grandmother always washed it herself, afraid to let the stewards handle it. She felt that if anyone broke it, it had better be herself or she'd never forgive them. Aunt Mary, my Dad's older sister, was helping her dry it once and so great was her fear of her mother's sorrow that when she dropped one of the cups she caught it again before it hit the floor. The set is still complete; twenty-four place settings, plus serving dishes.
I love imagining the table my grandmother must have set for a big dinner party - white linens, the gorgeous china, gleaming silver and crystal, and perhaps flowers in the center. It must have been an amazing sight when twenty-four guests sat down to dinner at their house with the French china.
Labels: Aunt Virginia, French china, Teddy Roosevelt, The White Fleet