Digging Through Someone Else’s Stuff

I was recently sorting through some stuff that isn’t really mine – at least, I don’t feel like it is. It’s not as complicated as I make it sound. About 6 years ago, we moved my Grandma Betty out of her house in Oregon so she could move up to Bainbridge Island, WA, so that my retired uncle could keep an eye on her in her old age. When she moved, she was 88. She is now 94, and still sharp as a tack.

When we moved her out of her house into an apartment, she didn’t take a whole lot with her. Just the basics and things that made it feel like home – her pots and pans, her old flower-printed couch, the stuffed toy dog that sat loyally by the fireplace. Much of the rest was donated, but my parents, with their excellent foresight, saw an opportunity for their high school sophomore to gather the beginnings of her own kitchen.

boxes under the stairs

This is where it’s been kept for the past six years. My parents’ house has a Harry Potter style cupboard under the stairs. Awesome, right? As I will be moving out at the end of July, I decided to get it sorted out so I know what I want to take with me.

There’s some really cute stuff in there! Among my favorites are these strawberry-patterned ramekins, this blue china serving platter, but especially these pink everyday china plates.

strawberry ramekin    blue china platter    plates

It’s hard to wrap my mind around that these are the plates I will be eating dinner off of for (at the very least) the next few years. It doesn’t make sense. In my mind, these plates aren’t of the present, but of my memory. These plates belong in a small house in a 65+ gated community in Oregon where I can ride my scooter along a river path and feed ducks at the local park, not in a cupboard under the stairs. In my mind, they are too large for whatever small apartment cabinet I stuff them into, regardless of whether they physically fit. These are the Thanksgiving dinner plates. These are Grandma Betty’s plates. What do you mean they’re mine now?

It’s a strange type of responsibility. I know where these plates have been and who they have belonged to, and now I am expected to carry on the long-upheld tradition of… eating off of them? I guess that is the task before me. I can’t say it’s incredibly important to me, but I know one person to whom it will make a huge difference.

Grandma Betty is 94, and she has been trooping along many, many years longer than anyone (including herself) thought she would. Usually she’s in a fine mood, but every time one of my visits comes to an end, she talks as if she’ll never see me again. I don’t mind – for all I know it might be true, and even though she’s acted like this at every goodbye since she was 80, I wouldn’t want to brush her off. The woman is 94, after all. You never know.

After one such goodbye, just as she was closing the door to her Bainbridge Island apartment, she looked at me and said, “When you set your own table in your own home one day, think of me”.

It seems to be all I am able to do with these plates – think back to when I most often saw them used, in her kitchen in Oregon. It will take a while to get used to seeing anything but mashed potatoes and gravy on them, but I’ll adapt. In the flurry of my everyday life, when the plates transition in my view from “hers” to “mine, I have a feeling that it won’t come to the forefront of my mind quite as often as it does now.

I figure she knows that I will try my best to do as she asked. I also figure that she understands how the salience of that connection will be dulled with time. So I’ll set the table with grandma’s plates, until I set the table with my own.

More to follow.

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