Tisolay in Turquoise and Black, a Still-life

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Still Life: Tisolay inTurquoise and Black

Bookshelf assemblage – My grandmother was a little Cajun girl fresh out of high school, studying in the big city at the New Orleans Conservatory of Music, when she met and befriended a young woman artist named Nell Pomeroy O’Brien.  Nell was the artist who painted the many small portraits I have of Tisolay that she was apparently fond of doing, and it was Nell’s husband, an engineering contractor, who had been the one to eventually declare to his bachelor banker friend, my grandfather, with his wife’s friend in mind, “Percy, I’m gonna marry you off.”

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Daguerrotype of Tisolay’s father J. Euclide at the Breaux Bridge farm, ca. 1900, and her turquoise vermeil set from China

One of those portraits is on a bookshelf in my study, the centerpiece of a small black and turquoise still-life that serves as a divider between sections of books, a grouping of some of my grandmother’s things from my childhood with her, each with memories attached:   the lyre back from the teacher’s chair she sat next to me on while giving me a piano lesson . . . the white wedgwood cream pitcher that accompanied our afternoon tea breaks . . . and later, when she was too fragile to do it herself, the ceramic Chinese box vase I kept filled with fresh sasanqua branches for her; I think it was a gift from one of Granddaddy’s banking friends, though it was just as likely to be a Mardi Gras krewe favor from one of the balls they were always going to.  Probably both.

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There are the vermeil and turquoise earrings that I thought were somehow mystical when I was 4 or 5, because they were both in a portrait from ‘olden times’, yet also right there in my hands.  They were part of a set that came in a multicolored silk embroidered box with an ivory tooth clasp almost as ornate as the jewelry itself, a set Ti never told Granddaddy had been given to her when she was in high school in Lake Charles by an enamored Swedish ship captain who’d gotten it in China.

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There’s her father’s gold nib pen, and  a daguerrotype of him at the reins of his horse, a racing trotter, taken from the porch of Tisolay’s grandfather’s house around 1900, on the sugar cane farm in Breaux Bridge that’s been in the family since 1763.

Tisolay's shawl

Mama Sitges’ shawl, ca. 1890

 It was part of an original Spanish land grant given to his great-grandfather, an Acadian exile from Nova Scotia.   Bayou Teche is out of sight off to the left, but the little tree in the background is the towering giant pecan that is now as big around as a car, a branch of which was the source of two wooden chopsticks an old boyfriend carved for me to put my hair up with.

. There’s the shawl that Tisolay let me dance in, its long fringes twirling around my ankles like the lapping waves of the Dvorak River Moldau we listened to all the time, and the Chinese fan from behind which she would peek Matahari eyes out at me . . . There was the fine glass vase on its delicate footed base that had belonged to her beloved mother-in-law, Mama Sitges, as well as her exquisite Belgian lace handkerchief that was always in Ti’s hand on the rare occasions when she consented to leaving the enchanted little house she loved so.  When I was little, it was Sunday mass and pecan waffles at Camelia Grill, the clanging of passing streetcars ever present in the background.  It was Easter lunch at the Country Club, after Tisolay’s notorious Easter egg hunts in the yard, and the occasional new exhibit at Granddaddy’s museum.  Later, when All Saint’s Day was the only day of the year I could get her out of the house, it was visiting Granddaddy at the cemetery, sitting with a thermos of strong coffee and a tupperware of crawfish étouffée, a spoonfull of both pushed into the dirt in front of him so he could eat with us while we told him about our year.  Not that he needed it, lying across the street from the glorious smells of Commander’s Palace as he was.

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Mama Sitges’ handkerchief

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Adventures away from home were less frequent in those later years, but made up for it in intensity when they did happen. One All Saints’ Day, we got to the cemetery too late, our hands full of flowers we’d just picked from our gardens.  Rather than acquiesce to the padlocked chains, we slowly, methodically, hopped the iron-spike fence to the astonishment of the tourists who’d been taking pictures through the iron bars of the beautiful sculpted tombs beneath the magnolia trees.  They burst into an ovation when we finally made it down the other side.  Tisolay swept down into a dramatic curtsy, then, quite pleased with herself, took my elbow, turned away and skipped a few steps down the row of magnolias toward Granddaddy.  What those tourists didn’t see, but Granddaddy did, was her shake her little 86-yr-old fist up to him and say, “…and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

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Thanks for joining me.       ______________     © postkatrinastella – all rights reserved.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my little world for a while. As with all of my photos and text, all rights to the material in this post are reserved. © postkatrinastella.com

Comments

  1. Angela Norton says:

    i’m so enthralled by the heritage that brings these treasures to life. have you thought of giving us a overview of the family tree? it might help us put the right name to the right generation. Tiseley? Omiri? (excuse the spelling errors) If you could even tell us the historical origins of the family names that would also be enlightening!

  2. Theresa Simoneaux says:

    Nell Pomeroy O’Brien is my great aunt. Her late daughter, Patricia O’Brien Strigel, I believe was a friend of your grandmother and your mother. It is nice to see Nell’s portrait of your grandmother. My mother, now 87 years old, is an O’Brien-O’Donnell. Her uncle was John O’Brien to whom you refer in your opening paragraph. The Historic New Orleans Collection is continuing to collect artworks by Nell. The library of the University of New Orleans currently houses many of family’s inherited collection of papers from Nell’s estate. Tulane also has a collection of Nell’s better works bequeathed to it by my cousin Patti O’Brien.

    • Laura Stella Sitges says:

      Thanks so much for writing. How nice to hear that you know of Nell’s friendship with my grandmother. I have several letters of hers written during my grandparents’ courtship that will no doubt appear in one form or another when I write up that story. And now I know where to give all the pieces of hers that I have. Thanks so much.

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