Exploring the process of writing my new book, The Blue Box due out in 2012 – Sallie
First, there was the dagger, surely the most dramatic offering from my grandmother’s curio cabinet. Yet to me, the next item she took out was even more interesting: a blue-and-white checked cotton bandana, or scarf, stiff with embroidery.
I reached to touch it, but she held it out of my reach. Nothing from her curio cabinet could be touched, except by her, as all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren would learn.
“Look at the embroidery,” she said, spreading out the bandana. Dense, tiny silk flowers in red, gold, purple and blue covered every inch.
“How did she do that,” I asked.
“Well, she was Chinese,” my grandmother said, as though that explained everything. Perhaps, I thought, knowing the secrets of embroidery was like knowing the secrets of love, for my grandmother had hinted, without actually saying it, that the Chinese maiden had taught the young Naval officer, our remote ancestor, mysteries of that kind.
“He kept it for the rest of his life which was, of course, short,” she added matter-of-factly, folding up the bandana.
“What happened to him?”
“Well, after he saw the Emperor cut her in two—”
“He did?” I gasped.
“She’d been unfaithful, and that was the usual punishment,” my grandmother said, in a tone that implied that the punishment fit the crime. “After that, he was not himself for a long time, and when he came back to Richmond, his family persuaded him to get married. They thought it would fix him,” she added circumspectly.
“So he did, even though he loved the Chinese maiden?”
“Well, she was dead,” my grandmother said with great practicality, “so he married a beautiful blond girl—her family was very well off—but then on their honeymoon when she dared him to climb to the top of a tall pine (she never thought he’d do it), he climbed, and fell to his death. So you see he remained true to his lost Chinese maiden.”
She laid the bandana carefully back in the cabinet and closed the glass door with a decisive click.
“And now I’m taking you to the club for lunch. Go comb your hair.”