Tuesday, May 11, 2004

a belated weekend review

I spent last weekend in Washington, DC, visiting my family and some old college friends. I had lunch with one friend who is now an attorney and works in the same building (but not the same law firm) as my stepmother. We had a great time catching up, talking about old acquaintances, and comparing notes on our employers, among other things. I had dinner with two other former housemates from Georgetown, and we had plenty of fun and good food at Red, Hot, and Blue in Rosslyn.

On Saturday, yet another old friend from school came out to my father's house in Maryland, bringing with him his wife and five-month-old son. He's now a doctor, about to move home to Alabama, so I relished the chance to see him one more time before he moves to a place I'm not likely to ever visit. Later in the evening, some family friends who were passing through the area stopped by for a visit, so it was one busy day. But as much fun as it was to see all of these friends, those weren't the best highlights of my trip.

After my grandmother passed away last August, my father and aunt cleaned out her house in England and shipped back to the States several boxes of old photos, memorabilia, souvenirs, etc. The last time I visited my father, in November, I spent an entire evening looking through old slides of family vacations, graduations, proms, and concerts. This time, I stayed up late into Saturday night looking through a box of old photographs, many of which dated back to the 1920s and 1930s. I found pictures of my grandparents on their wedding day and honeymoon, of various aunts, uncles, and cousins, some of whom I've never met and others whom I've only known late in their lives, and of my father as a young boy and young man. One of my favorite pictures showed the German army marching through the streets of the isle of Jersey (where my family originated). That would have been a "forbidden" photo, and we surmised that one of my grandmother's relatives who lived there must have snuck the picture from a window overlooking the street.

The most moving photographs were those of my father's two brothers who died as young boys during WWII, in a German bombing raid on Glasgow, where my grandmother and great-grandmother had gone as a refuge from the bombings of London. It was sad to see pictures of two boys who never had the chance to grow up, and to understand in some small way my grandparents' grief over their loss. Incidentally, the elder boy was my namesake: he was also Philip Edward Catelinet. I've known that for years, but I'd never seen a picture of him until now.

Mixed in among the pictures were all sorts of other souvenirs. I found a stack of congratulatory telegrams my grandparents received on their wedding day, the article my grandfather wrote detailing his experience performing the Ralph Vaughan Williams tuba concerto, and a dinner menu for a 1960 Salvation Army charter flight from New York to London on the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). What first caught my eye on this item was the last line, under the drinks list:

"Served with your coffee: your choice of Virginian or American cigarettes"

My father pointed out the menu of alcoholic drinks available during dinner and reminded me that the Salvation Army does not allow drinking. Someone must have screwed up.

Finally, I returned to New York with several mementos of my grandfather. He was a great lover of cats, so I brought back a coffee mug with three cats on it, and some plastic cat "stick-ups" that so far have landed in a kitchen cabinet, while we figure out where to stick them. I also brought back a metal sculpture of an orchestra or band conductor standing at a podium. And my favorite item was the most personal, at least to me: my grandfather's conductor's baton. It's well-used, with the wood grip's finish worn off and the tip covered in white tape, hiding the place where the baton broke years ago (apparently it used to be at least half again as long as it is now). But it means a great deal to me, since I once thought of myself as a conductor. Even if I never use it, I will always have it to appreciate what he did with it.

No comments: