|With my mother, 1949|
I always believed my upbringing was different than most of my peers in that I, a mid-century person, was raised by late-life parents, both of whom were born in the early part of the century. Growing up, I felt that my parents’ values were old-fashioned. Okay, we all think (or thought) that, but mine really were! But – whatever I thought as a young person, my parents’ values were shaped before the Depression, in the 1910s and ‘20s when goods were scarce even if you had money. Today, it’s become a kind of study for me to remember and reflect on those rural values of that era.
I came into the house from school one day – back in “my” day – to find my mother weeping. “Oh, Kathy,” she said, “I broke Aunt Grace’s teapot. I'm sick to my stomach.” She had been cleaning house and inadvertently knocked the teapot off a shelf.
Young as I was, I was impressed that she would react as if it were a death in the family. That was the first I realized that my mother treasured things. I had never seen Aunt Grace’s teapot. We certainly didn’t ever use it, nor would we have. It was beyond using. It was a memento of her great-aunt, a keepsake from another era to be treasured but never used. Maybe Mother even felt it had been entrusted to her since Aunt Grace didn’t need it any more.
I didn’t know how to comfort Mother. I was just profoundly impressed that we should care so much about things, and I offered a short but heartfelt prayer of gratitude that I had not been the one to break the teapot!
|Two of Mother's teapots. We use the homely insulated carafe.|
As all children do, I had broken a few things in my young life, and while Mother may have forgiven in her heart, she didn’t let on. She told me that when she raised her older children, she had purchased dime store “treasures” and set them around the house. She knew full well they would be broken eventually, and when they were, she carried on as though they were precious things. It was the way she trained her children to be careful. Well, I (the youngest) learned with the real stuff. The story of how I broke the candy dish lid when I was two years old occasionally surfaced.
Over the years, I have pondered Mother’s ideas about the place of things in our lives, and now as a senior citizen living in a different world, I have my own opinions. I think it’s a matter of respect to handle things with care, but if we don’t see and handle them, we don’t appreciate them, and if we do handle them, there will be some breakage. And if something is inadvertently broken (or lost) in the course of life, then there should be forgiveness because we aren’t going to take anything with us but the character we’ve shaped. KW
[Note the shadow of my dad's face in the first picture.]