There are more guests at the table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Haunted Houses”

A couple of times a summer, Marilyn Weymouth Seguin serves hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad on bone china belonging to the grandmother of the camp’s previous owner. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Weymouth Seguin

When we bought our camp on Little Sebago Lake in 1996, it came furnished – comfortable musty furniture, cooking pots and frying pans, plenty of bedding and towels in many colors and sizes. The toolshed was completely stocked. In the kitchen cabinets were two sets of dishes – a set of brown crockery, not very pretty, but serviceable, and there were enough for eight complete place settings. On the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard was a “set” of bone china dinnerware – pink roses on a cream background, edged in gold, much of it chipped or cracked – five dinner plates, four soup bowls in a similar but different pattern than the plates,  six salad plates and one medium-sized serving bowl.

“That was my grandmother’s china,” said the previous camp owner after we had negotiated the sale. “She will probably come back to haunt me if I leave it behind, but if you think you’ll ever use it, or even if you just say you’ll use it once each summer, I’ll leave it here for you.”

I said I’d use it, and I’ve kept my promise. I use this china once or twice a summer, usually when it’s rainy and we are forced to eat inside where I can set the maple table with plates, silverware and napkins (paper) and all. Into the rose-patterned serving bowl goes the potato salad. The hamburgers and hot dogs are served from the gilt-edged platter. It’s incongruous, really. Not at all campy.

Every time I use these dishes I think of the woman who once owned and loved them enough to pass them on to her descendants. I never knew that woman, but she is still real to me. The spaces in which we live and the objects that we use hold the imprint of those who came before us. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, we are molded into the living people who we are by these spaces and objects and the people who owned them.

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