I recently celebrated one of those “milestone” birthdays…the ones we ladies do not like to talk about. But instead of dreading it, I embraced and celebrated turning the “BIG 5-0”. My mom was able to spend the week with me- so we planned a great get together of my closest friends, as I cannot remember the last time I had a birthday party. We did a Paris Garden Party Theme…as my dream is to one day visit Paris and shop and soak in all the amazing sites and sounds.
My mother has always been the hostess with the mostess and the most creative person you will ever meet. She could have easily been the lady you see on TV nowadays with the cookbooks and home decor empire…as the many talents that she possesses are immeasurable. She can paint, upholster, draw, cook, organize, write (she is working on her own stories now) and decorate with a flare that is all her own. We always grew up in the best decorated home and with the best and most unique items and decor. Then the meals- always amazing!
This year- she got a special gift for me- and its one that I wanted to share with all of you. She gifted me with antique pearl opera glasses. Not only did I get these gorgeous glasses- I got an amazing story that she wrote to go with the glasses, and give them some provenance… even if its imagined!! They were perfect and the story made me cry!
In honor of her- and mothers day- I thought today would be the prime opportunity to share her gifts with all of you!
A Daughter’s Gift, By Mary Panitzke
Young Alice emerged from the blackberry brambles carrying a basket of the most beautiful berries in all of London. She could see her Mother off in the distance shaking out a white lace tablecloth in the air. She watched and waited for that unknown moment when her Mother allowed it to land gently over a table that was posed in a grassy green clearing.
Mother Alice, born in 1865, was named after the popular novel at the time, “The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll. Young Alice, born in 1882, was her mother’s namesake and joy, possessing a sterling disposition of honesty and gentleness. She complimented the meaning of her name: noble and kind. Her soft features, framed by auburn waves of hair, pleased all her passerby’s. Many times, Mother Alice wished she had named her daughter Joy!
Young Alice hurried to their cottage, dumped her blackberries into the berry bowl, and rinsed them. She changed into a pale chamomile yellow shirtwaist with collar, cuffs, and front button closure. She stepped into a tan skirt with hem ruffles and accessorized it with a dark brown satin sash. She gathered up her auburn waves and piled them upon her head in an effortless bun. Plucking a yellow rose from a cut glass vase on the vanity, she quickly pinned it in her hair. She was lovely!
Young Alice placed the berries on the outdoor table and took her seat. The sun was beginning to hide behind the trees, but a few golden spangles managed to find their way through the dense leaves and brighten her face. Any moment, Father would be home, and they would all take tea in the fresh air. It was a very special day. Young Alice was about to celebrate her eighteenth birthday and she was sure her father was bringing her a very special gift.
Tea was heavenly. Tgee biggest, hottest pot of fragrant tea, herbed cheese on hearts of bread, hand-picked blackberries, and the most impressive Battenberg cake; her Mother’s special birthday surprise. Mother Alice delicately sliced and served three pieces. She happily amused them by telling the story behind the elegant cake.
They learned it was created to honor the marriage of Queen Victoria’s Granddaughter, Princess Victoria, to the German Prince Louie of Battenberg. A light sponge cake consisting of pink and yellow checkerboard pieces, brushed with apricot jam, and topped with a confection of ground almonds and honey marzipan. And, of course, all was served on the white Battenberg lace tablecloth that Alice saw earlier, which was another birthday present from her Mother. The next day it would be hand washed, sun dried, and ironed to perfection. Only then would it be placed in young Alice’s “Bottom Draw” of her chest with a sprig of lavender from the summer past. Traditionally, that was where a girl would keep her linens and such things she collected to be used after she was married.
Alice and her mother sipped tea and listened to Father talk of his day. Young Alice couldn’t help but drift away from his words, wondering when he would present her with her gift. Just then, she heard her father clear his throat. He was looking directly at her and smiling. He reached into his coat pocket, removed an envelope, and placed it on the table. Father encouraged her to open it. She did. Inside she found three tickets for the 1900 Worlds Fair in Paris, France:
Young Alice was thrilled! She could not have been more pleased. She felt like a princess!
The unfamiliar journey from London to Paris by carriage, train, and boat, was tiring. But all was forgotten when they passed through the Grand Gateway of the “Paris World’s Fair 1900”.
Young Alice was practically speechless as she walked toward the Eiffel Tower with it’s fresh coat of golden, yellow paint chosen just for the fair. Her eyes were unable to resist climbing all the way up the tower’s immense latticework of wrought iron,but when her eyes met the clouds; she had the distinct sensation of vertigo. When the giddiness subsided, she let out a silly laugh of sheer delight, opened up her parasol, and prepared herself for a fascinating adventure.
They shared the next four days in the company of hundreds and hundreds of visitors like themselves; all celebrating the achievements of the past and the science of the coming twentieth century. Young Alice marveled over all the new inventions, machines, and architecture. She spent many heartfelt hours between the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, admiring the profound art, sculptures, and exhibits.
She loved the modern three-lane moving wooden sidewalk. She would quickly step on, grab hold of the hand post to steady herself, and, when she wanted, she would quickly step off at any of the various stations along the 2 ¼ mile route. Gliding along, thirty feet high, she could absorb every detail of the fair. To young Alice it was the future.
The nights at the fair were dazzling. The Palais D L’electrique provided all the electricity to run the entire fair. With its five-thousand incandescent multi-colored lamps, it was a glowing beacon of life. Young Alice was spellbound by the figure on top of the building. A chariot led by a hippo graph, the legendary creature with the head of an eagle and hind of a horse, spewing colorful flames into the darkness.
Young Alice was over-awed when she took her first ride on the Grande Roue De Paris: the largest Ferris wheel in the world, gigantic circle of ups and downs. She experienced sudden waves of excitement each time she reached the top, and exhilaration as she came back down to the bottom. Around and around, again and again, taking in the view of the “City of Lights.” She had never experienced anything like it.
It was their last day and night in Paris. Their stay at the “Regina Hotel” was stylish and comfortable. Built especially for the 1900 Fair, the hotel boasted of its Art Nouveau architecture and a gilded statue of “Joan of Arc” on horseback in the square.
Young Alice opened the French doors that led onto the balcony and looked out over picturesque Paris. They were only minutes away from one of the most famous museums in the world, “The Louve”. And then there was the “Jardin Des Tuileries,” the most beautiful public gardens in all of Paris. Oh, how she enjoyed promenading amongst the Parisians there.
Young Alice felt a bit woebegone, wishing she could stay forever. As the smells of Paris breezed past her on the balcony, she made a promise to herself that one day she would return.
Father had decided they would spend the day resting up for the trip back home to London. He ordered in an early dinner:
Roast pork with Rosemary
Biscuits with Sweet Cream, Jams & Jellies
And a big pot of hot tea and simple almond cookies for dessert. Dinner was ambrosial. Mother Alice poured some more tea and relaxed back in her chair. Young Alice sat quietly, downhearted that her last evening in Paris would be spent listening to the street noise of the vendors and the merry touristes.
Father excused himself and went over to his valise. He returned with the most elaborately wrapped box. It was covered with decorative paper, tied up with ribbons, and topped with a silk bouquet De Corsage. Father explained it was the last part of her birthday present; a souvenir of Paris. Young Alice was reluctant to open it, afraid she would ruin the charming gift-dressing. But, after a few admiring moments, she took great delight in taking it apart.
Inside she found a dainty, moss-green velvet pouch, trimmed with metallic frise and tiny brass beads sewn below the drawstring cord. She opened the pouch and found the most stunning Mother of Pearl French opera glasses with a telescopic handle. Engraved on the front of them was her name, “Alice” and the year, “1900.” Attached was a note that read: You have just enough time to dress for the opera.
Young Alice was overjoyed! She thanked her dear parents with kisses and smiles, then she hurried off to get ready. Since Alice didn’t own a ball grown, she wore her Tea Gown, a chiffon that flowed the shade of lilac with an abundance of lace and pearls around the neck. It was a pleasing compromise. She affixed the Bouquet De Corsage to her bodice and her new velvet pouch hung gently off her wrist.
Young Alice cast a graceful silhouette as she entered the “Palais Garnier” Opera House. Many eyes followed her as she walked up the majestic staircase for one more amazing evening in Paris.
Young Alice’s auburn waves of hair bounced about her shoulders as they rode away in the carriage. She watched the Eiffel Tower get smaller and smaller and smaller. For her it was a momentous holiday. She felt as if she sampled an appetizer from a tray of enlightenment one that deliciously stimulated her appetite for greater things to come.
Young Alice was energized! Her interests enriched! Perhaps she would not be so generous with her time. Instead, she would develop her talents and cultivate her desires. She would make a name for herself! She was filled with serene expectation.
The years passed pleasantly. And on one sunny day in 1911, young Alice was on her way to her favorite bookshop in London for an afternoon of tea and browsing for the perfect read. Young Alice’s beauty had not faded with the passage of time, but the design of time had shaped her life. She gained no distinction or prestige, but she was far from idle. She had learned to relax the grip on her own accomplishments and had begun to take great pleasure in the accomplishments of others. Surrounded by her many books, music, and art, she was completely content with who she was and where she was in her life. She was genuinely happy!
Young Alice left the quaint bookshop with the French novel, “Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux, in a brown paper wrap. Hers was the New English Version. The story of the strange events that occurred in the famous opera house in Paris “The Palais Garnier.” On the way back home, young Alice recalled the memorable events of her Paris Holiday. Especially that unforgettable last night at the same opera house.
She arrived at the cottage and went directly to her “Bottom Drawer.” She took out her keepsake reminder. When she removed the opera glasses from the pouch they were housed in, she noticed a few pieces of Mother of Pearl were missing from the handle. Young Alice was saddened. As to the how, why, when, or where it happened, she had no clue. She put them back away for a later day.
One hundred and seventeen years later, on February 17, 2017, I was strolling through an antique mall in Tucson, Arizona. Keeping in mind the fact that I needed to find a very special gift for my first daughter’s 50th Birthday.
A tall, narrow glass curio caught my attention. In it I discovered the most stunning Mother of Pearl opera glasses made in Paris. This was it! The perfect gift for my daughter who loves anything Paris. I bought them. When I got home, I opened the package to look them over again. To my heartache, I realized they were missing some mother of pearl pieces on the handle. There was nothing I could do. Now they were mine and they soon would be hers.
Then it hit me! In the wink of an eye and the tink of a bell, I thought of a story that I could tell. And you’ve just read it! Your Mother’s make-believe short story written especially for you. Just another birthday present to go with your antique Paris gift that now has a Fanciful Provenance.