I was named after my great grandmother, Margaret Niemeier. I never got the chance to meet her, because she died the year before I was born. She loved her good dishes, and her eye was drawn to the gold. She even had gold flatware, and I must have gotten my magpie eye from her. A few years ago,when my Grandmother gave the dishes to my mother, some broke in shipping. My mother was sad about the fragments, and gave the pieces to me and said maybe I could turn them into mosaics. I made ornaments for members of my family, kept one for myself and took the surplus to craft shows, where people were very moved by the story of the rebirth of the dishes in honor of my great grandmother, a way to remember her and mend what she loved.
When I was in highschool in the early 1980’s, my first real passion about learning came when a friend was talking to me about feminism and Alice Walker’s In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens, and I suddenly realized that women were part of history, that we were there too. In my drama class, we had to write about a play, and none of them were written by women, so I searched the library and found Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and petitioned my teacher to write about that play, and read her biography To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. This desire to know about the hidden history of women has stayed with me.
I searched for Margaret Niemeier’s name in a database of newspapers, and she comes up at least 50 times, but as “Mrs. H.L. Niemeier”–her husband’s initials as was the custom in the 40’s and 50’s. The blurbs are about her singing soprano solos in church, and hosting socials. She’s a part of history, and part of my history, since I share her name.
My great grandmother’s dishes are also a legacy, a part of her history. I received the full set from my mother, who moved into a smaller house, and they were so carefully wrapped that not a single dish broke, and they were stunning in their graceful beauty. I looked up Meitel Norleans Courtley China, and discovered the design is attributed to Eva Zeisel, a designer who I love. What synchronicity!
Finally, one of the first poems I ever had published was about my great grandmother, and I’d like to share it with you:
by Margaret Almon
My great grandmother
had a heart attack and died
but only briefly.
The doctors brought her back
even though she did not want to come.
I was named for her,
Margaret, meaning pearl,
that grain that worries the oyster’s
gray flesh into sublime moony layers,
ripped from the shell,
strung in strand after furled strand.
She did not want to come back
that’s all she said.
Break the string
the beads drop, rolling
as if they were going home.