My paternal grandparents’ home in an old pecan orchard was filled with mystery and delight. In every cabinet, drawer, closet and bookshelf were great treasures of books and record albums and dolls and fabric, statuettes of famous works of art, dresses, pieces of old quilts and a hundred thousand fragments of someone’s delicious memory that we cousins and neighbors pored over and dreamt about and built whole imaginary lives around.
I loved rooting around in the records in the built-in stereo cabinet and playing whatever I could find that I could sing to. Frequent favorites were Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I knew how to pull out the turntable from behind its amber cabinet door, set the shiny black record on the wheel, and place the needle on the first groove all by myself without scratching the record (usually). The music filled the living room and tickled the bottoms of my feet, rushing up into my throat as I sang and danced along with Julie Andrews, Sally Ann Howes and Dick Van Dyke.
In retrospect, I think some of our favorite places to treasure hunt we were probably not “allowed” to get into, but get into them we did. As a pre-teen, I found a paperback copy of The Other by Thomas Tryon hiding in a dresser drawer. I devoured the psychological thriller on the sly in one night that left me sleepless with terror; somehow I made it to church on Sunday morning. In that instance, the consequence of my illicit “treasure” hunting was its own punishment. If I remember right, I snuck the book back to its hiding hole in the dresser and said not one word to anyone, ever. I think such natural consequences were customary, though I’m sure we occasionally got a “whoopin’” or a least a good lecture when we got caught in places we weren’t supposed to be or with things we weren’t supposed to have.
The most common treasures, though, were the permitted ones. “Lora, get the placemats out of the hutch. No, no. The good ones. Yes, those.” And when I was older, “We need more tea glasses from the hutch.” Or napkins, or serving ware, occasionally a serving dish or platter or some other treasure of the hutch. It’s where the stationery and stamps were kept, and where my grandmother displayed her beautiful china and crystal. I remember standing looking up into the four framed-glass doors above the main cabinets and drawers while Grammie looked down at me — her blonde hair expertly done with a streak of white at one temple — and told me about the dishes there. I don’t know how many sets of different varieties she had, but the shelves seemed crowded with several patterns plus the crystal. I must have been terribly young, probably barely school aged or perhaps younger. Even as a little girl, I knew what I liked, and I liked the ones with the pink flowers and scalloped edges. Because I knew what I liked, I simply asked: “Grammie, can I have those someday?” No sense of decorum, no sense of propriety or correctness. Just the question. I can still see her face as she answered me, but I can’t hear her exact words.
I know Grammie remembers that moment, too. I know she remembers because the Wedgewood Franciscan Desert Rose eight-piece place setting (I haven’t actually counted them, but there are more than four) has been mine since she and Pa had to move from the pecan grove. The set languished in plastic tubs in my mom’s garage, my sister’s shed, then back to my mom’s garage, for far too many years before Christmas of 2011 when I decided I could no longer live without them in my life, every single day.
I agonized a bit over how to get my dishes home to México. I considered shipping them. I considered packing them in my checked luggage, carefully wrapped. I considered putting one dish at a time in my carry on each trip to Mom’s. I finally did something a little bit brave and a little bit daring, and only a little bit more satisfying than one plate at a time. I carefully wrapped two dinner plates, two dessert plates, two saucers and two teacups and packed them into my carry on. I picked the first pieces carefully because I figured if I were going to lose pieces, I wanted to lose the ones that were already cracked or chipped or otherwise less than perfect. I wasn’t sure if they’d even let me through airport security with them.
“They” didn’t so much as ask about the dishes in my carry on. So I boarded the plane, squinched my eyes up tight, and practically held my breath the whole flight.
While waiting for my luggage to appear at airport baggage claim, I peeked into my carry on and kind of jiggled the teacups, the most vulnerable Desert Roses, and they were whole. Still, I kept my fingers crossed. That bag still had to go through the customs x-ray machine entirely unattended. Two feet away was much too far.
I arrived home breathless, and unpacked my carry-on before my regular luggage. Every plate, every cup, was as whole as my memory, maybe more so. I set the dining room table with my treasure, as if I were waiting for company. Dinner plates topped by dessert plates, and saucers and teacups offset to the left corners of the dinner plates. They are the most beautiful dishes I’ve ever seen. I thanked Grammie in my heart right then from here, so far away, for honoring a childish wish, and for still being around to hear about it, eventually, when I got brave enough to tell her how I was getting them home. I made it home with another set of twos safely this summer. And plan to bring another set of twos home at Christmas.
I open my kitchen cabinet every morning and I see the scallop-edged plates and reach past the teacups for my random gigantic ceramic coffee mug; a little thrill runs across my arm all the way to my belly button as I think of all the work, focus, and determination it took for Grammie and Pa to build the life that permitted them the luxury of a maple china hutch filled with beautiful things from all over the world, and a life that permitted them to be able to give me the gift of “my” dishes. As I pour my coffee, I center my thoughts on the work of the day, with thanks and the blessings from the cabinet over my shoulder.
Today, as I finished up my grocery shopping (tomatoes, chiles, avocado, bell peppers, milk, cleaning supplies, new flip flops), I decided to take a swing through the housewares section of Soriana. On offer in a central aisle were juice glasses with a colored base: bright blue, bright green, or dark lavender. They were typical Mexican-style glass: thick, short, and bubbled with minor flaws. I liked their slight angle, and the weight of the base – not too easy to knock over. I considered the colors, and decided the lavender was pretty close, a nice complement to the pink of my Desert Roses. For about eighty cents, I bought just the one in case I was wrong about the color.
I set the table for company when I got home, even though none was expected, and included my new glass in the setting. It’s not what one might call a precise match, but the lavender draws on the pink from the plates, and turns it into something new and sunset-like. I will get a full set of the glasses to go with my “new”, but very old, Desert Roses. I served myself a dinner of sliced tomato, rosemary grilled chicken breast and a piece of toasted, buttered Ezekiel bread on “my” dishes. I think I’ve never eaten better in my life.
Thankfulness for the charmed bounty of my life takes interesting and intriguing forms that keep me awake, that make me think, make me remember, and help remind me to look ahead. I am a Desert Rose: born to withstand the harshest sun, the deepest drought, the wildest winds. My roots run deep, all the way down to the richest of pools. ~LD