Style & Home   February 15, 2009

Never Save the Best for Last

By Saralee Perel

Instead of New Year’s Eve, I make resolutions on my birthdays. It seems somehow more quiet and personal. This year I decided it’s time to sell or donate my mother’s possessions that no one in the family is planning on using. Those boxes in my attic have loomed uncomfortably over me for many years.

The bittersweet process didn’t go as I expected, but then again, what does?

As I stumbled through the carton-crammed attic, the first box I opened held my mother’s sterling silver flatware. Wedged between the Stieff forks was her favorite evening purse wrapped in blue felt. It was a tiny beauty that could fit in my palm. It had pale peach roses embroidered on beige satin and a handle dotted with pearls and emeralds. I couldn’t imagine ever carrying it myself when going out to dinner, but who knows? Maybe someday I’d find an evening worthy of its elegance. So I put it in my pocket to save, as Mom used to say, “for best.”

Memories washed over me from when I was little. When I was sick, I was allowed to go through her jewelry drawers. I loved pulling out costume diamond brooches and clip-on earrings. Peering in her vanity mirror, I made up stories about wearing them. That’s also where she kept her little purses. I always completed my fantasies by matching one of them to complement my ensemble. And my favorite was this one I had found—wrapped so carefully in blue felt.

I re-connected with my mother. It began with this purse.

Behind the silverware were stacks of tightly sealed cartons—cartons that I hadn’t been able to face in the years since she died. Boxes that I so quickly, efficiently, and hold-on-tight emotionlessly, packed up the week after her funeral.

With a rich sadness, I peeled the tape off of one. It held pastel blue Wedgwood china that had raised white bands of grapevines around the edges. It was in museum quality condition. That was because it was never used.

And then I found crystal that sparkled with brilliant diamond clarity. Tumblers and candlesticks and a huge cut glass punch bowl. I carefully unwrapped a Waterford vase. “How come I never saw any of this?” I thought. The vase was a metaphor for her life. A daughter of penniless Russian immigrants, she grew up proudly able to afford good crystal. But she couldn’t allow herself the joy of using it. Like many unclaimed joys in her life, she saved it for “best.” And more often than not, best never came.

I think that is why I was too afraid to let myself think about the things I packed after she died. It was too sad to see wine glasses that never glistened on a lace tablecloth and china that was perfect because no one ever put a slice of cake on it.

As I set the table for my yearly birthday lasagna bash, I flirted with using my mother’s handmade white embroidered tablecloth, but I pictured it with the resulting tomato sauce stains and changed my mind. My husband softly admonished me. “You might as well throw it out if you’re going to keep it in the attic. Why have it take up space?”

So with gleeful abandonment I unfurled the pristine white tablecloth and set the table for seven people who arrived soon afterwards dressed in party attire.

Continued on next column . . .


On Getting Involved and
Making a Difference . . .

by Nicola Burnell

“Life’s tough and then you die.” I don’t remember who said this to me, but I do remember that I was a child. These words still haunt me, decades later, whenever life gets a little rough and I find myself walking the tightrope between paralyzing fear and hopeful determination. Yes, life is tough, especially now that our economy is doing a trapeze act too. But it’s not hopeless.

Although you might feel like you are wading through molasses, there are outstretched hands reaching toward you. These hands belong to your neighbors and your friends, and they are willing to do whatever they can to help. I know this because I have seen this community conscious attitude building strength all across the Cape.

When Gillian and I decided to re-launch Cape Women as an online magazine, we had a deep sense of community in mind. We believed that if we opened this virtual door you would walk through it and together we’d create a dialogue that would reach into homes all over Cape Cod. Your letters, questions and feedback have begun that dialogue. With difficult economic months looming before each of us, I would like to suggest that we turn our conversations into action.

When Senator Obama asked us to organize in support of his presidential campaign, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in living rooms across the country to strategize, share resources and work toward a common goal. Their combined efforts got him elected. President Obama has stirred the souls of all community activists and given us an example of what we can do, if we are willing to work together.

If you are interested in moving this dialogue into your own living room please let us know. Grassroots community action groups are now forming in our towns. If you know of one, or plan to start one yourself, please forward the details to us so that we can add them to our Resources page. We will update information to keep it current in between each issue.

President Obama cannot wave a magic wand to repair the damage the economy has already suffered. But he can continue to inspire us to help ourselves. We want to know what you are willing to do to help your community weather this economic storm. What skills are you willing to share with your friends and neighbors? Would you be willing to plant a Victory Garden? (See article in the last issue of Would you participate in a crop sharing program, which could also help to stock the soup kitchens? If you don’t have a green thumb, how about offering your time and/or energy to a local business that may be on the brink of collapse? The need for support is enormous. The time for action is now.

If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. This is not the time to suffer in silence. Nor is it the time to sit back and hope that “they” will do something to help your community. There is no “they”, there is only you, me and us. If each of us did just one thing for someone else, starting today, the impact we could have on our local economy would plant the seeds for recovery in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

Please email us your ideas and feel free to get as creative as you can. Remember that necessity is the mother of invention. I am an optimist and I do believe that this is a time of growth and opportunity. Beginning today, we can each contribute to the development of a more prosperous, supportive community for us all. As our new President suggests; “We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

Nicola Burnell is the editor of this magazine. She lives in Harwich with her two teenage sons.

Continued from column on left:

I believe that had my mother known she would never even take a sip of water from her beautiful crystal tumbler and that she would never put a bouquet of her home-grown roses in her lovely Waterford vase, she would have been heartbreakingly sad.

Because of that, not one of my mother’s treasured belongings has been taken out of my house. They have, however, been moved downstairs.

And so, as I turn the corner of another birthday, I am making another resolution. I don’t want someone in the next generation to go through my attic and find treasures I’ve never used. What on earth would be the point in that? If something breaks, it breaks. My new motto? Use the good stuff!

My guests and I laughed our way through dinner, and nobody spilled sauce on the tablecloth. Instead, I knocked over an entire glass of red wine. I was horrified, but I bet Mom wouldn’t have minded one bit. I think she would have loved that ruby-red stain. I wish she could have been there to celebrate with me. She would have adored that her favorite evening purse, so tenderly kept for “best,” was no longer in its soft blue felt cover. It was with me at my party, making a perfect match for my peach satin blouse.

Nationally syndicated award-winning columnist and novelist, Saralee Perel, welcomes e-mails at
You can visit her web site:


Watercolor paintings by Vera Champlin,
courtesy of Addison Art Gallery, Orleans

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