Dashing around yesterday, I made a little "me" time to re-visit a hole-in-the-wall antique shop. Hubzam and I had stopped there three or four days ago and as I wandered through the little shop, I spied a set of goblets on a shelf. Instant heart glitch; I squealed with delight! It was a set of vintage Libby Silver Leaf glassware that goes perfectly with my china pattern. I know this because I have some water and juice glasses, and these were the same type.
"I don't think it is, Cherdo," Hubzam said.
When I returned home, I checked and sure enough, it was a match and so I went back and bought eight new-looking goblets for a whopping twelve dollars. I had neglected to check the price on the previous trip, so I got an extra special surprise - they were cheap. What a find!
Holding one of these new treasures in my hand, it occurred to me that there can be a lot of emotion and memories tied up in keepsakes - deep, personal feelings that only the guardian of the items can understand. My china is like that for me.
When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of my childhood visits to my great grandmother's house and I'm transported back to that time, driving down her long and winding road to the dirt driveway that led to her home. Many of my childhood summers were spent sitting in that dirt drive with a spoon, digging and building mounds of some fantasy or another. My great grandmother kept two old spoons in a junk drawer just for that purpose, along with other treasures like string or old canning jar rings. Fair game for a kid.
The house is made of cinder block, but it sits on a large flat yard with hills to the left and back of the lot. To the right, the hills slide down in to a bottom punctuated by a black walnut tree and a creek flows between the field and house. My great grandfather, Thomas E. Shafer - Ed, to family - built the house with his sons, Tom, Roy, Burhl and Bob. My grandmother, Mary, was their sister and probably added her two cents more than once.
Great grandpa Shafer died in 1967, right before my eighth birthday. My aunt, Diana, was staying with us at our home in Ohio while my parents vacationed in Florida when the sad news came. They went to the funeral, but Diana stayed there with us and I remember she planned a birthday party for me and invited the neighborhood kids. It was a nice distraction when you are too young to understand how to respond to a loss, however keenly felt.
Ed's wife was my favorite relative of all, my great grandmother, Goldie, who we called Nanny to distinguish her from my other grandma, her daughter Mary. Everyone should have one person in their life who looks at them with eyes that say "you're my favorite" with every glance. Nanny was that person for me.
For Thanksgiving, our family would usually arrive a day early because of the long drive from northeast Ohio to the little town my family called home: Ravenswood, West Virginia. My mother, Janet, was raised by Nanny and was more like a daughter to her. My father, Fred, was the guy who took her away from West Virginia, which gave him a certain negative distinction. Dad would tell us that he only saw one thing he ever liked in West Virginia - so he took it home with him. That was my Mom.
Situated on the banks of the Ohio River, Ravenswood was originally surveyed by George Washington himself, and old George had ownership of a large tract of land that stayed with him till he died and it was left to his nieces. I'm told he planned to make his home there, until the death of his brother created a vacancy at a place called Mount Vernon.
Awakening on Thanksgiving, the house would be cold and we'd run into the living room to sit in front of a gas heater; my grandmother would have been up hours earlier and by 7 a.m., she wondered aloud: "Are you fellers gonna sleep all day?"
It was a human alarm clock, West Virginia style. Worked like a charm.
Pies and cakes populated the table cloth covered washer and dryer in her kitchen. She made the most wonderful blackberry pies from the berries that grew abundantly on her farm, and her jelly was second to none. I was twenty eight years old the first time I ran out of her jelly and had to purchase jelly from a store (it was an eye opener, but not in a good way). Throughout my childhood and teen years, I tried to learn how to make some of the favorite foods that came from Nanny's kitchen, and I regret never learning how she made her lemon cake with lemon icing. It was so moist and tasted like fresh lemons; the icing was light and airy. Betty Crocker had nothing on Nanny.
Uncle Roy would arrive first and bring RC Cola or Coke to put in the refrigerator, and if you were lucky, he pass one your way, too. Soon, Uncle Tom and Aunt Bernice arrived with my much loved cousin, Tommy, in tow. Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary Lou just lived down the road and I couldn't wait to see my cousin, Scott (I was a bit of a tomboy then) and his sister, Sue Ann. I knew that Scott could always be talked in to a hike or fishing. Uncle Burhl, Aunt Mary and cousin Steven usually arrived last, having made the drive from Parkersburg.
With the house full of family, I'd get to help set the table and Thanksgiving meant we were using the good china. My Uncle Paul had purchased two sets of Noritake china in the Harwood pattern while he was stationed in Japan. The Harwood pattern was produced from 1962-1974. It is a beautiful white plate edged in silver with grey and beige leaves. Even as a child, I thought it was beautiful and I knew it was special.
Dinner came and Roy sat at the head of the table; he spearheaded the oversight of his mother and my great-grandmother, and I'm sure he earned the place. Nanny always made a white hobnail pitcher of iced tea that was strong and black. In our neck of the woods, you didn't sweeten someone's tea in advance. The thing about that was I was a bit scared of Uncle Roy, so I always drank tea without sugar because I was afraid to ask for the sugar bowl. That thing was always sitting by Roy!
Uncle Tom usually did the blessing of the food; I guess that among all the church goers, he seemed the most adept at the task. While the final amen still hung in the air, the women of the family were hard at work filling up plates by inquiry: "Did you get some mashed potatoes? Do you want gravy on that? Burhl, did you try Mom's pie? Didn't you get a deviled egg?"
Uncle Burhl was quieter than the other brothers, and always had a kind and compassionate spirit about him. He made a point to ask me about school and things he knew I was interested in. He and his wife, Mary, had three children: two girls and a boy. The oldest daughter, Patti, died of spinal meningitis before she was two. She was a beautiful child and it was a devastating loss. The next child was Stephen and then Sandy. Sandy had problems from birth and I remember her always being in a crib; my mother thought she might have been born with a form of polio, but I really don't know the full extent of her medical problems. She passed away at the age of eight. Over the years, I wondered if he as always quieter, or if the loss of those sweet girls caused him to carry a bit of sadness with him every day.
My grandmother was crafty and usually had crocheting with her at all times. She could whip out an afghan in no time with those magic fingers. When she did ceramics, everyone got something. I still have a polar bear she made that held baking soda to clean the air in my refrigerator. She thought that was so clever and she could never keep a secret about a gift she was making - so I had ample time to think about how lucky I was to get one of her polar bears. That silly thing is in my cabinet, in the way, but I refuse to part with it. Every now and then, one of my kids picks it up and says, "What in the heck is this?"
I just laugh.
Dinner would finish and everyone would move to the living room. Standing in the kitchen, the most musical laughter would come from the combined families as they traded quips and tales. Even when you couldn't totally make out the words, you could hear Roy's high pitched laugh, and my grandmother Mary breaking into the conversation. Aunt Bernice would be in the background, softly adding, "Oh, my goodness..." Uncle Tom would bring others in to the conversation with gentle prodding or Uncle Bob would laugh and tell a funny story about Scottie and Sue Ann. My mom would chat away with Aunt Mary Lou.
Standing at the sink, doing dishes, Nanny smiled and listened. Occasionally, she'd leave the chores to walk to the doorway and add something to the conversation. On these days, surrounded by her family, I think she was as happy as she could be. I also think that it was when our family was its closest, in a genuinely warm union with one another.
Little did I realize that my great grandmother was the glue that held that all together.
Nanny lived to see my first two sons born. On my last visit to her house, she told me she wouldn't live till her December 9th birthday. That shocked me; it was late November. She took me back in to the guest bedroom and pointed to a package in the closet. My son, Magoo, was just a few months old at the time. She had gotten him a yellow teddy bear and she told me that before she died, she wanted to make sure he got a Christmas present "from his Nanny."
When I called her on her birthday, Roy answered and told me they were putting her on an ambulance; she felt really bad. In the middle of the call, he started talking excitedly, saying, "Mom, no - you can't!"
She was getting out of the ambulance on her own because she wasn't wearing her good slip and had to change. Yep, that's my Nanny.
Within hours of arriving at the hospital, she slipped in to a coma and in a few days she was gone.
Our family came together with her one last time to say goodbye, to participate in the funeral rites and to accompany her to the cemetery where she would be laid to rest with many other family members that were dear to us.
I left Ravenswood that day in 1984 with a yellow teddy bear tucked under my arm and an old, worn spoon in my purse.
So, when I set my table today, I won't see mere china and glasses. I'll see Roy in front of that white and silver plate. Bob will be passing that gravy boat while Burhl and Tom hand the serving bowls from person to person. My grandmother Mary will be in the delicate dessert dishes - she always thought those were so pretty. I'll see Nanny with her 93rd birthday cake, slicing each piece and placing it on the cake plates. My own mother carefully packed the dishes when she gave them to me. A layer of my own family memories will be added to the mix with the new "old" glassware finds. I will tell my granddaughter about the original owner of the china and how it was a gift of love that traveled here from Japan. In all likelihood, my granddaughter may be the next owner and so I will try to convey the intensity of connection to my family, now gone, that I feel when I see Nanny's china there on my table.
In other words, I'll remember to be truly thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving to all, and God bless. Go make some good memories.