Why I Don't Save Stuff For Best
This is for anyone who has ever saved something for best. My advice: wear it! Use it! Today's a good day.
I was cooking dinner when I heard the smash in the hallway.
My young daughter was sat on the floor with the broken pieces of my grandmother’s Royal Doulton cup and saucer. It was the pink one, the colour of apple blossoms. It had a painting of a fancy picnic scene. There was a lady in a hoop skirt. Beside her, a gentleman in pantaloons was on bended knee, holding the lady’s hand. At the bottom of the cup was a tea rose in glorious blossom. The cup and saucer were edged in gold.
‘I’m sorry mummy,’ she whispered. Her head was bowed.
I sank to the floor and gathered up the broken pieces.
I thought about crazy glue.
I thought about keeping the pieces in a jar.
Then I wept. Big, shuddering sobs.
‘Mummy, I’m so sorry.’ My daughter’s voice was tiny, like a little bird’s.
I held her. We sat embracing on the floor as the rivulets of salty, snotty tears streamed down my face.
I wiped my face on my apron.
‘Mummy, I’m so sorry. I’ll never touch your things again.’
I explained that I wasn’t angry with her. I was crying because my grandmother had died, and when that happened, my life had come apart.
I fiddled with a piece of broken china.
‘Was she that lady in the big dress?’
‘No honey.’ I smiled.
I had been hoping to find my grandmother in the few things of hers that still remained.
I didn’t want to keep her beautiful teacups safe, and out of sight, in the back of a china cabinet. Not that we even have a china cabinet…
I wanted to integrate those teacups into my grownup life. I wanted to see them every morning when I came down the stairs.
They reminded me of how my grandmother always asked me to set the table with her fancy cups and saucers when we’d visit. She’d make grilled cheese sandwiches cut into points, and pies topped with Cool Whip.
The broken cup and saucer were another part of her gone. That was why I wept, for the devastating permanence of death.
My daughter fetched the broom and dustpan and we swept up the broken pieces, and slid them into the bin.
I watched her tiny hands carrying the plates to set the dinner table. Her knuckles were white from gripping so hard.
‘I won’t drop them, mummy.’
‘It’s ok,’ I reassured her. ‘They’re from IKEA.’
I realised how I’d been grasping, holding on so tightly to loss, to memories, to physical objects that I’d hoped would in some way make it ok that life changes. But gripping hasn’t made loss bearable. It hasn’t made it ok.
Nothing lasts. No one lasts either. Robert Burns said that ‘Life is but a day at most.’
I’ve been afraid to wear my grandmother’s heart-shaped gold locket, the one with wartime photos inside. The chain is particularly delicate.
I’ve not worn her paste pearls either. Nor the pink enameled flower brooch, the one that looks like an apple blossom with dainty rhinestone centers. I’ve kept the faux ruby pin safely tucked away, though it would look smashing on my navy dress. I’ve fastened that pin to my winter coat, then took it off again. Better not. One swipe on a crowded train in rush hour. One rub of a handbag strap…
The Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, says it best: ‘If you’re invested in security and certainty, you are on the wrong planet.’
I cannot stop the natural flow of things. Of Life.
So I let my daughter play dress-up with my granny’s claret-coloured velvet cloche hat. She clomped around in a pair of heels, hat perched crookedly on her head, and admired herself in the mirror. I put the paste pearls around her neck.
‘Don’t I look lovely, mummy?’ she asked.
I draped my arm around her shoulders. My heart was overflowing.
‘You look beautiful, sweetheart. Absolutely beautiful.’