Friday, January 12, 2007

A Dinner Party

This week Deb in her spot as guest editor at Create a Connection asked us to organise a dream dinner party. This is an entirely imaginary event with guests of our choosing from any time or place. My first reaction was to include a number of my direct ancestors and their relatives, those that I had found interesting in my researches and those who I thought would be able to solve various genealogical mysteries.

Then I read on and found that the guests had to fit certain categories - one from each. I was a little disappointed, but then I realised that I could find someone from my family connections to fit each and every category.

Deb added a "girl's night out" theme to her list. I decided to do the same and choose all women. Further, about half of my guests are related to me in some way. Even though I could fill all the categories like this, I decided not to. For instance I could have chosen poets Jessie or Mary Miller for the "writer" category, but although their poems are charming (I may just post one or two sometime), I didn't feel sufficiently inspired by two spinster women living quiet lives in rural Scotland.

So here is my list:

1. Guest one must be someone who is/was creative with words - a novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, journalist, etc.

I would invite Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie. Not only is she a fine poet, first published at a young age, but she also writes wonderful non-fiction. She has travelled in Pakistan, Tibet and the Middle East. I'm sure she would have some interesting stories to tell, and that she would interest my other Scottish guests. As a lecturer in creative writing, and mother of a young family, she may also have some useful tips for me, both on writing and on finding the time to write.

2. Guest two must be someone who is/was creative with images - a painter, photographer, sculptor, fabric artist, collage artist, etc.

I would invite Isabella Miller Morley. She was the daughter of my greatgrandmother's cousin, and together with her husband, artist Henry Morley, she lived in Stirling, Scotland. An exhibition of their work was held their at the beginning of last year. While his works were the main part of the exhibition, she was also an artist and talented metal worker. Many well known artists visited them at their home "The Gables", including Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Apart from the family connection, I would be interested in how she combined artistic pursuits with raising a family at a time when it was less easy than now (if it is ever easy).

3. Guest three must be someone who is/was a performer - an actor, singer, musician, comedian, acrobat, etc.

I had trouble with this one - performance is rather immediate, and we know less of performers' own personalities than we do for writers, artists etc. Then I decided that I would ask a broadcaster. Radio journalist Kim Hill who used to host "Nine to Noon" on national radio in New Zealand a few years back. She was just such a fantastic interviewer, I'm sure she would get the best out of the rest of the guests.

4. Guest four must be someone who is charting/charted new territory - either in the physical sense, like an explorer, adventurer, or astronaut, or someone like a groundbreaking scientist or inventor.

I would ask Victorian woman traveller Mary Kingsley, who travelled in Africa at a time when it was thought shameful for women to travel alone. (The article I have linked to gives too many fascinating details to readily sum up).

5. Guest five must be someone who is/was a leader of other people - perhaps in the area of politics, like the literal leader of a country, or perhaps a leader in the area of religion, military, business, or even a great philosopher or teacher, or an inspiring athlete.

I would invite Chrystal MacMillan. A daughter of another of my greatgrandmother's cousins. She was the first female science graduate of Edinburgh University, campaigned for the right to vote for female university graduates and founded the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Possibly I would find her a little earnest. But since she's a relative, she's forgiven if that is the case. Besides, the overall mix of guests would ensure lively debate.

6. Guest six must be someone from any field who you believe is/was underrated and under-appreciated by most people, but whom you admire.

I would invite my greatgrandmother Jessie Finlayson Miller. I feel she had a hard lot in life. All her female cousins made "good" marriages - they married professional men, such as teachers, ministers, wealthy merchants, an obstetrician. They were well-educated and so were their children, and achieved in numerous areas. My greatgrandmother on the other hand was fatherless at twelve and an orphan at eighteen. The eldest of the family, she had four younger brothers. Together, they continued to run the family farm. Then Jessie married her mother's cousin, a baker. Several years later he went bankrupt. She appears to have masterminded the plan to run away from Scotland, managing to save some of the family treasures in the process. Unfortunately there was another bankruptcy in New Zealand. With eight children to raise, and a husband who drank somewhat, she had a hard life, but she did a fine job. She was intelligent and resourceful, and I think could have achieved much if she had had the opportunity.

7. Guest seven is a wild card - your choice! Is there someone you'd like to invite who didn't seem to quite fit into any category, or was there a category where you'd have really liked to invite two different people?

Tia (Anna) Bates. One of the most truly fascinating of my relatives. She was the cousin of my paternal grandmother, although I don't think my grandmother knew of her existence. Her father (my greatgreatuncle) emigrated from Scotland to the United States and then to Peru. Tia as a separated woman in Peru ran a guest house for many years, which was frequented by celebrities including the princes who became Edward VIII and George VI of Great Britain, Clark Gable, and Noel Coward who wrote a seventy line verse in tribute to her. She is also apparently mentioned in the Journals of Thornton Wilder. The link is to her obituary in Time magazine.

Bonus: Uh Oh! The dinner party is just about to end, and all your guests are about to disappear, and you realize that you've forgotten to ask one important question of one of your guests. You just barely have time to squeeze in that last question, so quick! - what was the question and who did you ask?

Well, I'm sure with Kim Hill present I've just had to sit back and listen to all the fascinating stories. And hopefully I've filled in some of the missing places on my family tree, too. But in case I've forgotten, I want to ask my greatgrandmother what happened to her brother Thomas, the one whose death I can't trace.


Bunny said...

Top of the morning to ya. Michelle sent me.

Bobkat said...

Wow, you had some very interesting relatives. No wonder you would be so eager to meet them if you could.

Michele sent me and I'm glad as this was a very interesting post.

Deb R said...

First of all I have to say how clever I think you are for including a professional interviewer on your guest list! I bet she'd come up with some great conversation-starting questions!

I was hoping after your comment on my blog that you'd do this because I was betting you'd be able to fill most of those chairs with your relatives. It sounds like a fascinating mixture of people. I'd gladly serve the meal or something to get to eavesdrop. :-)

Tammy Brierly said...

How wonderful that you were able to fill the table with your family. Fascinating family too :)

Prego said...

Sounds like they'd make some pretty cool ghosts, too.

Well thought out list. I'm sure it was fun to compile.

Here via Michele today.

paris parfait said...

Sounds like you have a very interesting family tree! I like how you used your fascinating relatives to grace the virtual table!

sage said...

It looks like you put together a great dinner party--maybe I should crash it, but don't know if I could do drag.

sage said...

oh, here from michele's

leonie said...

i saw kim hill in the most unexpected of places - at the collingwood fair in golden bay last saturday. i agree she would make for an interesting and entertaining dinner guests. in fact your whole guest list sounds grand, what a fab idea.

Anonymous said...

OOh what fun..cirque du soleil, the blue guys, John Lennon, and all my relations. I'll think of some more in my bath...Here from Michele's.

Anonymous said...

Catherine a fascinating guest list you have created there.

Could I tag along and just help to keep the glasses filled? I will stand quietly in a corner, listen to the conversation and make sure none of your ancestors become parched :)

Michele says hi.

Anonymous said...

What a novel idea. Utterly fascinating post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your famiy history.

utenzi said...

Michele sent me way, way far away to visit you, Catherine.

You know an amazing amount about your relatives, Catherine. I only know the names of people just three generations away. Hell, I don't know all that much about my great grandparents at all.

Your relatives sound quite interesting and it'd be great to hear about the male side also--maybe a guy dinnerparty sometime in the future?

utenzi said...

Off topic: The science in Pollan's book is often suspect. I think he knows what he's talking about but often "cheats" a little with it. The carbon thing I don't understand but according to Pollan, he had various foods checked with a mass spec to determine the origin of the carbon molecules in food (corn or elsewhere). Sounds odd to me. Like you said, excepting isotopes, carbon is carbon.

carmilevy said...

Dinnertable dream team: I love the concept. I've got to think about who I'd invite to mine. I think I'd have a tough time paring the list of invitees down.