Childhood Memories

I have been doing a lot of reading about memory and memory loss lately- probably a combination of my career and personal interests as my clients and my family age. The topic that I have found fascinating is how things related to sensory perception (e.g. music, art, tactile objects) can trigger memories from long ago.

I experienced one such flashback this morning. I had made myself a breakfast of two sunny side up eggs and an english muffin with butter and strawberry jam.  It wouldn’t seem like anything extraordinary at first, but once I sat down and started to take a few bites something happened.

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As I cut through the runny yolk and watched it spill onto the plate, I dipped my jam- covered muffin into it and swirled it around. All of a sudden I pictured myself sitting at a dark oval table with yellow country curtains on the window behind me. My grandmother had just served me two easy over eggs for breakfast and was trying to convince me to eat them. I didn’t like the gooey substance, much less the pungent taste.  Then I heard my grandmother tell me to put a dab of raspberry jam in the yolk and mix it together. It sounded like a weird enough thing to do that I tried it. Amazingly, I ate my eggs like that for most of my childhood. It was only as I got older that my tastes evolved enough to try sunny side up eggs with just some salt and pepper.

As I continued to savor my eggs this morning, every time I swirled the muffin through the yolks until it was soaked through along with the jam, I had the happiest feeling that I was in my grandmother’s kitchen once again and remembered how kind and loving she had been. Wonderful childhood memories!

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My Grandmother’s China

With the holidays now approaching, I have been turning my attention to preparing for some cheerful gatherings. That means it is time to clean and press my table cloths, polish my furniture and dust off my china cabinet.

Inside my china cabinet I hold a treasure of family history, my Grandmother’s gold-plated Superior china set. It has 12 six-piece settings. plus another half dozen serving dishes in a delicate yellow floral pattern.  This was my grandmother’s wedding china, given to her by the family for whom she had been a nanny when she first immigrated from Germany. She had cared for their children for several years until she got married. This beautiful china set was an expression of how fond they were of her and their encouragement for her to start her own family.

      

Over the years, Grandma displayed her china set proudly. Even though its gold rims required special care, she was happy to use the dishes when company came over. By the time I was born, they had already seen over 30 years of use. As a young girl, I noticed how much the china set meant to her; how she instructed me to hold the plates carefully with two hands when setting the table, or how to wash the food remnants off gently with a dish cloth. When she told me how she acquired the set, I was fascinated. Here was a young woman who had come over on a ship alone with only what she could carry, and yet she had the great fortune to have, what seemed to me, the most beautiful and plentiful china set I could imagine. And the fact that the family who had given it to her was Jewish, made the historic connection that she was German and had come here before WWII, almost a twist of fate.

The significance of her china set was never lost on me and she knew how much I enjoyed it. Many years passed, as did my grandfather. While I was assisting my parents packing up my grandmother’s belongings to move upstate with her children, we pondered what to do with the china. My grandmother would not need to use it again. I was still in college and did not foresee needing it for years, but I knew that when I was ready I would like to have that set. My parents graciously stored it for me until I got married, over a decade later.

When my fiance and I registered for wedding gifts, even though there were gorgeous new patterns of china to choose from in more interesting color schemes, I was not tempted. I knew in my heart what my wedding china would be. I cautioned my partner-to-be that he would be hand-washing dishes whenever we used them. Of course, he was terrified that he would be the first to break a dish in its long history.  But he knew the significance the set held for me and has never once complained about the extra care required when we use them.

Almost twenty years have passed since then. My children have both heard the family story about the china set, but between a son who is not impressed with dishes and a daughter who has a high sense of design and color, I know neither one of them would want it. That is fortunate for me, because I am not ready to give it up any time soon. Recently, my mother-in-law downsized her living quarters and knew it was time to turn over her Limoges china to the next generation. My teenage daughter felt honored to be entrusted with such a beautiful set and memorized the whole story behind it. We carefully boxed it up and stored it in our basement until she is ready to use it.

I think these things need to skip a generation to fully appreciate their significance. No girl would want her mother’s china set, and no mother would be ready to give up her own. It takes time for a meaningful story to pan out and a different bond between grandmother and granddaughter to form. I don’t know if I will ever have a granddaughter to pass my dishes on to, but in the meantime I plan to keep using them in the memory of my own grandmother and the wonderful bond I had with her. As I set the table for a holiday meal, I lovingly place the pieces of her wedding china and know how fortunate I am to have a priceless piece of family history.