I was always known as the Blue Lady even though, as you can see, I never was especially blue in complexion or costume. Certainly not in complexion.
“Can the lady go now?” The father was busy packing items around the house for the family’s next move.
“Why do you always want to pack my things first? Why don’t you pack some of your books?”, the mother replied.
The packing usually started before anyone in the congregation knew they were planning to leave. The child had to keep the secret. The child, so far as I ever heard, always did keep the secret.
The father liked to do a little packing everyday, he said, and naturally enough his own work-related things seemed more likely to be needed in the weeks prior to moving day than any decorative objects the mother had.
“I might need them.” came his reply from the living room where the mother’s small collection of, what they sometimes, disrespectfully, called knick-knacks, was on display. The father left me in my place. He left my unworthy companions in their places too.
I could tell he was frustrated. He didn’t seem to learn from one move to the next. I hated being packed away in newspapers with that black ink touching me. I hated the stuffiness in the box. I hated the box being lifted and dropped, lifted and dropped. I wanted to breathe the air of the house as long as possible. I wanted to watch the family as I had done all the years since I first met the mother. I’d almost forgotten my prior life in the big quiet house in the city where I had worthy companions on the mantle or when I was moved to the glass-fronted cabinet for a rest. I had other ladies with me then, dancing ladies, happy ladies.
Next I heard rattles and bangs from the kitchen.
“No, you can’t pack pots and pans–we have to eat–they are the last thing you should pack.” The mother’s exasperation raised her voice. The mother looked at me as though she knew I understood. I did.
I wasn’t really a lady but a young woman holding a basket of flowers in one hand and two freshly picked flowers in the other. A simple five-petalled rose was pinned at my bodice. I wore a white apron, pink shoes with buckles, hair pulled up and tied in ringlets folded forward towards the front of my head. The yellow basket with red handle had a rose, blue, red and orange fringed tubular flowers. I held two of these in my upraised left hand as well. My jacket flared out from my waist. Its sleeves were gathered above and below my elbow. The blue skirt had a fringe of pink cloth two thirds down it. The blue cloth of my skirt was decorated with bouquets of orange and blue flowers.
I stood on a spotted grey pedestal decorated with white scallops and leaves.
The mother chose me from the collection of the two women with whom I lived most of my life up until then. They were the two maiden aunts of her friend. It was an impulsive gift to the mother who was then a young giggling woman about my age. She admired the group of proper ladies of which I was part. The two wealthy women maintained and cherished us in their large and formal house. She chose me from among all of the crowd of us. I was quite excited to leave the others who sometimes had treated me unfairly because of my youth and beauty. I liked the young woman even before she chose me from all the rest. I had watched her be introduced to the household by the niece. She made the two tall, slim, dour Scots laugh although I don’t think she realized that she did. The two mistresses of the household sat at the ends of the long linen-draped table while the two young women chattered and tried to act dignified in the presence of the formidable older women.
In the family where I live now there were frequent moves, sometimes short and sometimes long. It seemed an argument took place over packing me, in particular, at every move. The father could not understand the mother’s affection for me. I was the most valuable of her few personal possessions.
I suppose I had associations for both of them with a world of single women which the mother enjoyed and which threatened the father. The mother’s friend, the niece of the two women, was a “working girl” of the 30’s and 40’s, a woman the mother met at her office. While “Billy”, the niece, may have posed some unspoken threat to the father’s monopoly on the mother’s time, it seems more likely that I was a symbol of the mother’s appreciation of beauty. At the time that I met them, the father and mother were intimate friends but were not married and were not parents. The father did not love beautiful things. I never recall seeing him admire a painting or sculpture or even one of the other ladies on the one occasion he came to the city house before the mother chose me.
I moved umpteen times with the family. I have stayed young as the mother and father and child grew older and the parents died and the child and I were left alone together. The child had to move me when the mother died. She took me to her home. I didn’t see much of it because she kept me in a kitchen cupboard high up in the darkness beside hideous yellow and red plates. I was left in that cupboard for a long time. I could hear her talking to the woman with whom she lived and sometimes to visitors. I couldn’t see a thing. I was very disappointed. The mother had never put me in a cupboard. The worst was being packed away for the moves but they lasted for a few weeks at the most. This imprisonment lasted years.
Like her father, she thought of selling me when she was ready to make an especially long move. She was looking at me and talking to her friend. I stood up tall and straight and I reminded her of all the stories I could tell her, the secrets I knew and the events I had seen and heard both before and during her lifetime. She sat staring at me after she had taken me out of the kitchen cupboard. I was able to read her mind. In fact, I didn’t have to because she talked to the person she lived with about me.
The girl said, “My mother loved this piece. We carted it around the country with us. They used to fight over it.” Then she told the stories she knew about me as best she could. I knew I was going to stay when she sat me down in front of her on the table and took out her notebook and pen and started to write about me.
I felt affection for her and started to tell her the stories she’s writing now. She wondered what the maiden aunts thought about her mother and their niece. She wondered what I knew of her parents’ life before they were married. She wondered what secrets about her and her parents I knew that she herself did not. I told her all of these as she sat there staring at me and writing in her notebook.
I told her first about that night that Billy first brought her to dinner at the maiden aunts’. They were Billy’s mother’s two sisters who never married. I told her that her mother’s idea that they had lost boyfriends during the First World War was only partly correct. They did lose friends then but they chose to live together rather than with any of the suitors they had known. They had enough income from their father’s estate to maintain their house and to employ a housekeeper and so they did. They both loved music and they played for hours two or three evenings a week. They read to each other, Forster, Woolf and Sackville-West and sometimes the Brownings or Tennyson or Scott but they liked to keep up with the modern tastes. They kept their wood-panelled rooms full of life by inviting dear friends who liked to share in the musical or literary evenings and by sharing their lives with their niece and nephew and their friends. I told her that her mother had been fascinated by the world she glimpsed ever-so briefly when she was invited for dinner.
The ladies were quite elderly then and did not do as much entertaining but as her mother had told her they always had the long dining room table covered with linen the salt in silver and crystal cellars at each place, the array of silver serving implements in front of each of them and the housekeeper who came and went quietly but not obsequiously through the swinging wooden door between the dining-room and the kitchen.
I reminded her of her mother’s story about her first visit to my old home. The mother sat at the long table with its beautiful white-starched linen cloth. As usual, one of the sisters was at the head and the other at the foot of the table. Their niece sat across the table from her mother. The mother was served pickled beets. The proper implement to take them from the serving plate was the fork. The mother tried to move a beet to her plate with the serving fork but it slipped off and dropped to the table. That would have been bad enough but for some reason the beet was filled with energy and rolled the whole length of the table from where the mother sat to the foot of the table where the more dour of the sisters watched. The girl laughed at my story.
There were so many gay dinner parties at that house. I miss them.
I have lived so quietly and lonely. Rarely have I had suitable companions except for the girl and her mother. I can hardly say the father was suitable since he treated me with such disdain. In the past few years, the girl has given me a place of honour, with a good view, of the living room and outside. I appreciate that. I sense she’s wondering whether we will move together again or whether we will be parted after all this time together. I do hope she keeps me. I would enjoy a livelier place but then I might just be one of many and here, at least, I am special, unique in fact, and we can remember together.