To celebrate Mother's Day, I am offering a special deal on my website featuring the image of the oil painting "Mystery Tea Service" on elegant notecards!
Please visit my website for details.....pamelajunekimmell.com
The Mystery Tea Service
Some years ago when the ravages of Alzheimer’s began to work their destructive powers on my Mother, the time came when she could no longer live in her little apartment by herself. She stubbornly refused ANY assistance, of ANY type, including home help, and at the mere mention of living with one of her children; the “Wrath of Mom” stifled any further discussion of that option. Part of the sequence of events leading up to the discovery of the “Mystery Tea Set” was her falling and fracturing her hip because she could no longer ambulate well without assistance - even in her tiny apartment.
So, the process began.
Somehow, having fractured her hip and perhaps having the added burden of total helplessness, seemed to cause her to deteriorate mentally almost overnight. It was either that or the fact that all pretense at “normality” was abandoned by her due to the realization of her situation - we will never know. Fortunately I worked in Administration at the hospital where she was taken when she fell, so I could keep a close eye on her and get a true feeling for her state of mind and body through my nursing and physician friends. The stories they told were not good. She was verbally abusive, combative, totally confused - some of which was due to her reaction to medication, and some of which was due to what was going on in her head. Her primary care physician explained Alzheimers and through the process of elimination, the conclusion was obvious; the deterioration had begun some time before and we had just not noticed it. She had been quite skillful at hiding things and charming people into doing things for her - but soon “forgot” how to behave that way or be capable of manipulation of any type.
Recovery at a rehabilitation center was the next step, and due to the fact that we realized she would never be able to live at home again, my brother, sister and I had to begin the process of “giving up” her apartment and belongings. At first we talked about storing things for her, but as we visited her in the rehab center and as we became more and more aware of the reality of her situation, it became obvious we would never take her home. So storage was not an option - we had to divide what was worth keeping, and get rid of everything else.
Mom had been a woman of “things” for many years. She surrounded herself with pieces of her life’s adventures - the travel to foreign countries, the hand-made clothes and shoes obtained in the orient, boxes of photographs and mementos - all the trappings of a long life. Eighty-three years on earth allows for much accumulation and my Mother had crammed it all into a small one-bedroom apartment.
Broken dishes, dusty half-dead plants, stained linens, torn and worn clothing - those things were easily discarded.
But one afternoon as my sister and I tackled the contents of a jam-packed closet, we found a box. Inside the box was a beautiful English tea set. Delicate gold edging and beautiful roses decorated each piece. It was carefully packed, and obviously had been used, but neither my sister nor I had ever seen it before. How had she managed through all the moving we’d done in our nomad-like Air Force family life, to hide away this beautiful tea service? We had no clue. But I re-packed it and brought it to live at my house, where I proudly displayed it in one of two china cabinets I have.
After two years of slowly fading away physically and mentally, my mother died in January 2001. Finally at rest.
One afternoon in my art studio I was unsuccessfully trying to come up with an idea for a painting and the tea set just popped into my mind. I hadn’t done a still life in years - not since I’d taken some art classes ages ago. I retrieved a place setting, including the beautifully crafted teapot and a lace-edged tablecloth and napkin that had been my Mother’s, and set it up in a corner of the studio.
There I created the painting called “The Mystery Tea Service”, and to this day, we have no idea where the tea set came from, its’ history, its’ past life - nothing. What initially irritated me (not knowing where it came from) now intrigues me. I’m sure there’s a tale to be told - I just wish I knew what it was! Unfortunately there are no other family members to ask, as they had all preceded my Mother in death as has my Father and his family. The English tea set will remain a mystery and perhaps that’s as it should be.
On the other hand, being a writer of mysteries myself, I have often imagined that perhaps it had a very interesting history....for instance, I know that on my father's side of the family an ancient ancestor, "Lord Mendenhall" had maintained an aristocratic lifestyle in a large estate in England. He was allegedly a rogue, a waster, a drunk, and a gambler of notorious proportions. It's entirely possible that this old tea service belonged to his family. Perhaps his long-suffering wife would keep herself entertained by having friends for tea while her husband carried on in his pastime of frittering away the family fortune on wine, women, song, and of course cards. Poor Lady Mendenhall......well at least she had a beautiful and delicate tea service even if she didn't have a devoted and loving husband - some consolation I suppose. On the other hand, if she was married to a bounder as the legend goes, perhaps she found "other ways" of keeping herself entertained while the Lord of the manor was away. Maybe a handsome member of the gentry gifted her with the beautiful tea service as a way of showing his appreciation for her bestowing her favors on him? Perhaps she hid it away when it became apparent that Lord Mendenhall had lost the family fortune and was hell bent on selling all their worldly goods. It may have been the one thing she made off with when her illicit love came one night with his coach to carry her away from the empty, echoing halls of Mendenhall Castle while the Lord was in a drunken stupor with the upstairs maid.
I'm sure the tea set has a tale to tell.......but in the meantime I will admire its' delicate beauty and wonder at the endless possibilities of its' origin and history. Every time I glance at this painting which hangs on my studio wall, I'll be reminded of the endless possibilities of "The Mystery Tea Service".