Grabbing Grannie’s Dishes
At one time Grandmother Rene had enough dishes to use a different set each day of the week. My favorite of all of them was her Franciscan Ivy china. “Someday you can have those,” she promised when I was young. I never imagined what that would entail.
The summer we were married, we went to visit my grandparents. I showed the dishes to my husband and whispered, “Someday those will be mine.” By then I realized they had more than sentimental value. Franciscan had discontinued that pattern after only a few years of production. They had already become a collector’s item.
The year she was 83 I hopped on a plane for a long overdue visit. We had a ball, just the two of us. It was almost like time had stood still and I was ten years old again, visiting by myself in the summer — one of my most treasured memories. Now she taught me how to tat. We looked through trunks of her old clothes, and I took pictures of her wearing her squaw dresses. She made the one with elephants on the bottom tier to wear as a delegate from New Mexico to the Republican National Convention in 1956.
She told me stories about family members and her life and friends from early years. She cooked bizarrely creative meals on the two burners of her electric stove that didn’t have pans fused to them from when she left the heat on high a couple of times. She served this glop on the ivy dishes, which I had all but forgotten.
“I remember these dishes. They’ve always been my favorites!” I exclaimed.
“You can have them someday,” she promised again. With her, one never knew for sure.
Three years later, I went back. She surprised me. “You can take those dishes home with you if you still want them,” she offered. My heart sank. Checking them through on the airline, especially with two changes en route, seemed like a bad idea. “Maybe I’ll ship them to you,” she said. I knew better than to hold my breath.
They were still in her cupboard when I returned the next year. “Do you want to take those dishes home?” she asked again.
“I just may do that.”
This time I had a plan. By now my sister lived nearby, and I was staying with her. By a quirk of fate, my brother came to town while I was there, and the two of us took off to hang out for awhile.
“Let’s go to Mailboxes for boxes and peanuts, and then go get those dishes,” I said. Eager to see the outcome of this edgy idea, his face glowed with anticipation. When we arrived at Grandmother’s house with two flattened boxes and an enormous bag full of something, her mouth fell open.
“What’s that?” she asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“Stuff to pack those dishes,” I answered, trying to sound breezy while holding my breath. She was famous for changing her mind, always keeping people off guard and guessing what she’d do until the last minute. This was the last minute. I realized I was on thin ice; there was a strong chance she would never have made the offer if she’d thought I would actually take them, and she could change her mind. I was daring to call her bluff, a move nobody had ever dared to make. We stood in uncharted territory.
She stood staring for several seconds, then softened and shrugged. “Okay,” she said, turning toward the kitchen. She set aside a few odd pieces, then gestured at the rest, telling me I could have “all of those.” To my delight, “all of those” amounted to all four remaining place settings and several serving dishes. She helped pack and double-box them, and they fit perfectly. There was no room for those extra pieces if she had given them to me. I taped the boxes securely, and headed for UPS, giddy with relief that things had gone smoothly.
“That went well,” said my brother as we drove away. “I really didn’t know what to expect.”
“Nor did I.”
When the box arrived a week later, I anxiously surveyed it. It looked unmarred. A blizzard of peanuts flew through the air as I pulled out piece after piece, going limp with relief when all were intact. I left them on the counter to admire for weeks before finding a place in the cupboard, still hardly daring to believe they were finally mine.
Standing up to an occasionally ornery old lady may not seem like a big deal, but flying in the face of family tradition is. As far as I know even now, nobody ever questioned Grandmother Rene or tried to rush her by stepping ahead of her schedule. The way I read things, if she hadn’t specifically offered to help me pack them, she had reserved the right to change her mind, a likely outcome if anyone crossed her. Taking the initiative in this situation was a huge step, and one that took some terror out of dealing with future curmudgeons.
After her funeral five years later, I brought home the remaining pieces. Her Indian jewelry and other valuables had mysteriously disappeared, so I’m sure I would not have gotten a single dish if I hadn’t acted when I did, which reaffirmed the lesson I had learned.
Those dishes will always be among my most treasured possessions. I would buy them new in a heartbeat, and they remind me of her. That makes them special. The memory of calling her bluff to get them makes them priceless.
Sharon Lippincott Bio: Sharon is a lifestory and memoir writing instructor and coach, and the author of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, a handbook on transforming memories into meaningful stories, and numerous other stories and instructional material. Her blog, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing includes over 500 essays and tips on life writing. Her latest book, Writing With All Your Senses is due to be published in January 2013. She serves on the board of National Association of Memoir Writers and serves an adviser for the Allegheny County Library Association’s 2012 “One Book, One Community” project to start lifestory writing groups in libraries county-wide and across the country. Please check out Sharon’s website , and join her on Twitter, and on Facebook as well as LinkedIn
SoniaMarsh Says: Not only can I “see” you and your Grandmother Rene throughout your story, but I sense her power and strength, and the impact she had on everyone in the family.You summarized it beautifully in one sentence.
“As far as I know even now, nobody ever questioned Grandmother Rene or tried to rush her by stepping ahead of her schedule.”
Thanks for sharing a story many of us can relate to in one form or another, within a family.
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