Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reflections from a Dumb Supper

My Great-Grandmother Elsie Durant Riddle (1904-1994) and me, 1989.

There were thirteen chairs at the table. Six bodies needing breathe, six invited spirits needing body and one shrouded place setting that was gateway to Otherworld. I called in the spirits to dine with us and then I invited my Great-Grandma Elsie to sit across from me, my hands on the sweater I had hung on her chair, her ring in a box beside her plate. And we began. After dessert, when the main course was served, I found myself swinging my legs beneath the table and when I focused on the emotion that was causing the physical motion, a memory within me opened...

I was sitting on the end of the twin bed covered with a white, woven bedspread that had little raised puffs on it that created a design on top of it. We only pulled this bedspread out when my Great-Grandma stayed with us for the summer. I remember noting, when I was a child, that I didn't know where the bedspread lived while she was in Florida. In the moment of the memory, I was sitting on that bedspread, swinging legs that didn't touch the floor yet, sitting with my Great-Grandma while she dressed for the day. When she was with us, I liked to follow her around like a miniature shadow. She was my mother’s Grandmother and I was aware that she had known my Grandfather when he wore diapers and that fact amazed me. I am not sure she liked us intruding on her routine, but she let us, and adored us in return.

It was our time, in the mornings, before we children ran outside to play with the neighborhood kids. In this memory, it is just her and I. I watched incredulously as she pulled on her knee-high stockings in the 98 degree heat and asked her if she was cold in disbelief. I didn't yet understand that for someone from a warmer climate, New York was colder in general. Then she pulled on ankle-length pants, a light summer blouse, and then a knit sweater with one of those clips that held it on her shoulders like a cape. Last on were these cork and cloth wedge sandals that she wore. Her skin was soft and paper-smooth, with some curvy edges that jiggled a little when she laughed. To me, my Grandma always smelled of cool baby powder…

...back at the supper, I could still feel the raised surface of the bedspread beneath my fingers and how, even in the heat of the summer, her skin was cool beneath my touch. Every silent supper I sit with her unlocks another memory, another treasure. I could feel the fullness of the room around me as if it were a choreographed dancing of currents moving in and out of and around and under each other.

And that is what our lives are like, touching each other, moving away to and into one another, bouncing off of and merging with… intersecting and separating. And even as the years since her death pull us further from each other physically, my work has allowed me to close that gap by recalling the past with a surge of emotional memory that brings it present. Everyone is a gift, as Elsie was to all those who knew her.


  1. Thank you for the beautiful reflections, and for sharing your memories of Elsie with us all.


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