Silver Coffee Urn, Saul Martin Portrait: Zelda Sayre and Gatsby
Dr. Carlisle Van Thompson in his book The Tragic Black Buck made the argument Jay Gatsby is black. I may one day write a novel with that as a premise. Right now I’m just going to wonder about Zelda Sayre, citizen of Montgomery, and whether my husband David’s ancestor ever poured coffee for her, or for Scott, at the Montgomery Country Club.
This coffee urn is one of the oldest and complex objects we own. It sits on a game table in our living room, beneath an Aaron Douglass a print called "Oak Bluffs" a drawing of the old black neighborhood on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. If you’ve read Rebel Yell you may be interested to know that the carousel called "The Flying Horses" are in the town called Oak Bluff. You can’t see any of that in this picture.
What you can see is more important. The portrait propped beside the coffee urn doesn’t usually sit there. It’s usually in the upstairs library. The man in the portrait is my mother-in-law’s maternal great grandfather, Saul Martin. Mr. Martin was a waiter at the Montgomery Country Club in Montgomery, Alabama. When a photographer came to Montgomery to take pictures of the club members it was agreed that Saul and his wife would also be photographed. His daughter married a professor at Tuskegee. They had Goggy and Goggy had Florence and Florence had David.
For years Saul Martin poured coffee from that pot. When he retired they gave it to him, I hope sincerely and I hope so he could pour coffee for himself.
When I married David the urn was in Flo’s living room beneath her grand piano. She kept dustrags in it. I don’t think that she, the daughter of a doctor, the widow of another doctor, the mother of one lawyer and one business man, wanted to have much to do with pouring coffee at the Country Club in particular or Alabama in general.
My husband has been considered for membership in the Belle Meade Country Club. Some people say, and the Nashville Scene reported the possibility, that David hasn’t gotten in because my novels are too controversial.
This has not bothered David. In one of his great moments of husbandly generosity he said, “If they don’t like Cynara, they don’t need us.” But he kept his application in at BMCC.
Left to my own devices I would not join a country club. I like book clubs. I like clubs where people write papers. Or hear lectures. Or take turns giving lectures. Some days I can’t even imagine why David would even consider joining a country club. When I look at our silver pitcher I get it.
I believe in Nashville. I believe in Nashville from Fatherland Street to Jefferson Street to Belle Meade Boulevard. I believe in it from Bordeaux to Franklin. I believe in it east to west, north to south. And I believe that all the people who hold me against David should think of Saul and give David what he deserves.
Me, I going to keep making coffee at home in a glass French press. And when I don’t do that I’ll go to Starbucks. But I won’t put dustrags in Saul’s silver coffee urn. When I think of it, and I have the time and money, I will fill it full of roses.