Rachel Bennett

Daughter of Dionysus

In Food on January 2, 2011 at 05:07

It is rare to experience an occasion encompassing the breadth of Dionysian expression—from cradling tenderness to brash abandon, from the god’s role as protector of fertility and the cultivation of the earth, to his character as revelrous rabble rouser. My niece’s blessing, however, was one of these moments. Fiona Rose Adams was born last May, and by the waning of December—a seven month old bundle of smiles, sparkling eyes, and delicious rolls of fat—she was ready to be officially and publicly welcomed to this world.

It was quite a production. My mother, Fiona’s paternal grandmother, managed to entreat not only the family, but unsuspecting neighbors, friends, friends’ children and children’s friends to take part in the great event. There was to be a short ceremony followed by a large and lavish tea.

For some reason, Mother, a seasoned organizer of such events, became overwrought about the tea. For at least three months beforehand, she’d been continuously reminding me of my promise to help with the cooking, fretting over how much food to prepare, and amassing provisions in the freezer. By the time I returned home for Christmas break, she had baked so many scones and miniature mince pies that it was impossible to open the bulging freezer drawers.

On final review, Mom’s frenetic productions included the regiment of scones, mince pies with brandy butter, a black and ominous plum pudding, a pile of crab and avocado sandwiches, a platter of smoked salmon on brown bread, and a battalion of sausages. My own contribution was limited, mostly out of laziness, to a large Victoria sponge cake filled with homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream and dusted with icing sugar, as well as two dozen lemon souffle tartlets. However, this was by no means the last of the food, for mom had also enlisted the help of Jane, Fiona’s maternal step-grandmother. This miraculous woman produced, in the space of three hours, a quantity of food it would have taken me several days to prepare: two pecan pies, three or four quiches, an enormous poppyseed cake. . . . and probably a handful of other dishes that the recent catatonic surfeit of food and drink has caused me to forget. And so, by the time the big day finally arrived, the tea table was in danger of collapsing under the weight of festive food.

The blessing began magically, as we we wandered through the Maxwelton valley woods to a little, low-slung glade in which nestled a round, one-room structure. Inside it was quiet and soft, beautifully decorated with roses and a flock of candles at one end. Fiona was regal in a long ivory-pale christening dress and cap to match. She smiled and giggled her way through the ceremony, sitting on her mother’s lap, apparently delighted with everything in sight. There were sweet songs, poems, blessings, and a candle lighting ceremony at this non-Christian christening . . . a witchcraft ceremony according to Fiona’s slightly bemused father. Everyone was smiling and making wishes for this new, bubbly little being, and I had that odd, dizzy feeling I get, that visceral sense of the earth spinning fast, beautiful, and merciless beneath me.

Then it was over and everyone piled back to the house for tea. In shocking disregard for the name, no one touched that temperate drink but turned to the mulled wine instead. Bottles were uncorked and the wine warmed with orange peel, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and spiked with brandy. More bottled were emptied and the food attacked. The room became warmer and the guests more loquacious as the evening closed around the house and her inhabitants.

Fiona was carried home by her parents and the guests began trickling away. Fancying a change of scene, a couple friends and I bundled ourselves out into the cold in search of a beer and a girlie gossip. I was tired by all the cooking and blessing and boozing, and it wasn’t more than an hour or so before I said goodnight and returned home. I was expecting to find my parents alone, dealing with the debris of the party, and so was doubly surprised at the sight that greeted my eyes. Walking into the sitting room, I found a gaggle of remaining guests. Chris was sprawled across the sofa, a glass of wine balanced on his chest. The others, including my parents, were established on further sofas and chairs and all obviously settled in for the evening and several in a decidedly impaired state.

(Note: names have been changed, for obvious reasons.)

“Rachie,” exclaimed Laurie, as I took in the scene. “Rachie, Rachie, come sit by me.” She was flushed and beaming broadly, a glass of scotch crooked between her fingers and her slight body gently swaying as she spread out her arms in a bonhomous welcome.

Next moment Ron ambled through the doorway, a bong nonchalantly clasped in one hand, a lighter in the other.

“I want to try it . . . . no no I’ve never smoked before,” chimed the little old woman in the corner, peering blearily through her bangs which had fallen in front of her eyes. “Rebecca says it will help me sleep.”

Across the room, I found myself wedged between Laurie and Sandra, both of whom were attempting, with grim tenacity, to extract all juicy details from my love life.

“All I’m saying is you mustn’t compromise,” declared Laurie, clutching my arm for emphasis. “What yon need,” she continued, tightening her grip and swaying more vigorously, “what you need is a hero; you must have a hero.”

“But are you having fun?,” Sandra asked. “I mean LONDON, you must be having fun, right?”

“But no Englishmen, forget them,” Laurie chimed in, her face serious and glassy now.

I gulped at my glass of whiskey, torn between distress and amusement. Struggling between the two I let amusement win. I was no longer a girl, that would be Fiona’s place in a couple years. Instead I was here, drinking with the elders. How wonderful, that on the day of her christening, Fiona’s grandparents and their friends solemnly blessed her. And then they let rip, let loose, imbibed, poured generous libations upon the ground and down their throats—to Fiona, to the gods, to Dionysus in his lawless vigorous veracity.

May your journey be a great celebration. . . The words of my mother’s blessing swam through my mind.

With a strong heart and solid foothold
may you turn your face into the wind. . .
May you have liberation for silliness,
for silliness is sacred
May you get up each morning
with robust enthusiasm, find what moves you
and follow that star.
May you live a long and vigorous life.
love wildly, deeply, and sensibly.
And may you at the end of your life
fall confidently into that final embrace
of unspeakable countenance. (Judith Adams)

  1. A beautiful story, Rachel!

  2. I wish I could have been there to see my cousin’s daughter! Thanks for sharing your beautiful story with those of us who missed the special occasion.

  3. Great Rachie!!

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