Granny’s Dishes

6 Jun

Last night when I returned home from the end of the day, I discovered a large sized box on my door step-step. I was so tired, I forgot about it and almost left it out for the night. When I did bring it in, my cat Hafiz thought it was a new piece of furniture and promptly spread his body across the top of it. This morning, we took a look at the contents. 

My grandmother told me she would be sending me the box. She also told me what she intended to send – dishes I had asked her about with birds painted on them. Now I don’t believe these dishes are particularly fancy or expensive. Never having been married, I don’t know much about china, silver or crystal, but I do know these particular dishes are every day; they consist of coffee cups and dessert plates that Grandma has used daily for at least forty years whereas the valuable dishes come out at dinner parties and holidays. In fact, I think the bird dishes are no longer a complete set due to overuse and possible chipping. But how I love the bird dishes, which is why I asked if I might someday have them.

I love the bird dishes because when I look at one it’s like looking into a crystal ball of memories of the summers I spent with my grandparents in Wisconsin when I was young. Immediately, I’m five years old again, transported to my grandma’s kitchen table while she asks me if I want eggs and bacon for breakfast or toast and raspberries. I see Grandpa look up from his newspaper and reach out his arms to hug me. Or, I’m a little older, helping Grandma clean the bird baths and put suet out for the birds. I look at the dishes and see myself as a young woman, sitting in Grandma’s dining room while on college break. I’m there with a cup of coffee and journal writing, as I look out at the flower beds. The dishes help me reclaim some of the happiest and most meaningful memories of my life.

At 89.5 years old, Grandma is by no means on her deathbed but she has not been in denial at all about her own mortality. She typed up a list of most of the major objects in her home and has asked family members to mark what they would like to have when she is gone so that no one fights about things or feels deprived of something that holds sentimental value. You have no idea what a touching gesture this is to me, for it is not about the things – it is about the memories. It also moves me because in her own way, she is providing an open dialogue and awareness of the passage of life and time.

I’m only forty but have lost both of my parents. My mom took her own life – with that there was no preparation for her departure. My father’s death came with more warning as he had pancreatic cancer, but he was not emotionally capable of verbalizing about his death. He never said what I meant to him or spoke of our fourteen year estrangement, and he only once alluded to the fact that he was going to die. Unlike Granny, he did not prepare his children for loss even practically. I made all the funeral arrangements and ended up contributing to the expenses. 

So when Granny asks me, “what would you like to have?” I don’t find it morbid. I find it deeply touching. In it, I see that Grandma cares that I remember my family heritage. Over the last five years, she has sent me photographs of myself as a baby – photos my parents lost in the chaos of their lives – and my parents’ wedding pictures. She has sent me some of my favorite art in her house and a beloved photograph that used to hang in my father’s law office that he had given her a copy of too. When I look at this photograph, I see my dad at his desk. I see myself as a child coloring or playing secretary while he worked and then the two of us going down the street to Anthony’s and the harbor for dinner. I look at that photograph and remember car trips to the Big Sur and Carmel where the photograph was taken and purchased. The only item I have from when my father died is a photography book called “Steinbeck Country” by Steve Crouch which depicts the same landscape and connects me to my father’s love of it. But out of everything I could have inherited, this means more to me than anything of material value because we read the book together on a regular basis.

I rent a very tiny place to live – the curse of being single in an expensive city I guess. The other day I was in my friend’s kitchen and realized it was the size of my living room. And because my house is small, it is getting kind of cluttered. I have more than outgrown the space although I love the quiet and sweetness of my neighborhood. So the more things my grandmother sends me, the more objects fill the shelves, but it is a clutter I gladly welcome. May as our lives evolve, the treasures of our hearts grow and be preserved. And may I someday pass onto another human being not only granny’s dishes, but all the things she has taught and given me.

Leave a Reply