Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thanksgiving Table is Set (Revisiting a Memory)


[This is a repost from 2014. Some stories stay the same.]

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 that 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'd 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? Did 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 was 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 be finished 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.

37 comments:

  1. My Mom passed on my Grand-Mother's china to me in 1997. My younger brother gave me my crystal glassware in 1987. They look great together... and I understand what you mean. My favorite are the cups and saucers, on which Grandmother gave me a tiny bit of coffee to sip. Specifically the little saucer, so the coffee would cool down faster.

    Sounds like we both have some great memories, Cherdo. Your set is beautiful! Terrific buy (smile).
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, these memories get trapped in our heirlooms! Thank you, Dixie!

      Delete
  2. A truly moving account, which is personal and universal at once. Thank you, and best wishes for a happy holiday.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Those connections held by items or otherwise can sure be fond memories indeed. Hope you have a great day at your bay.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The day at my bay was far more than okay - thanks, Pat!

      Delete
  4. Your grandma and her slip... wow. Happy Thanksgiving!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She passed away with half a dresser full of things too good to wear for "everyday."

      Happy holidays, Chris!

      Delete
  5. "Are you fellers gonna sleep all day?"

    YES!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bwahahahahaha...

      We used to stay up and watch scary movies and she thought we were insane to be up past 9 pm.

      Delete
  6. Nice find at the antique store!

    Aw! She wasn't wearing her good slip. That was adorable. I once heard a rule a grandmother told their granddaughter...always wear good underwear incase of an accident so the paramedics and doctors won't see your bad undies. Your story reminded me of that.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Cherdo!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm in trouble in the undies department...I think I need new accident undies, ha ha.

      Happy holidays, Chrys!

      Delete
  7. Family gatherings like you describe are one of the reasons this holiday means so much to me. I Love the goblets and would have been equally excited to find. They are beautiful! I miss the large gatherings, but Vince and I always try to share the day with at least one other couple. I can't abide spending this holiday alone. Like you, there are too many memories. But wow, Cherdo. Your memories are hilarious. Thanks for sharing and Happy Thanksgiving!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A little hilarity always accompanies every life event I have. God has a sense of humor.

      Delete
  8. DOC CHERDO, that was a great blog bit, beautifully written.

    There were so many little elements in there that reminded me of special moments and memories as well, related to my family and holidays we spent together. I could go on and on, but in some ways it seems that I don't need to because you already nailed those feelings.

    I miss those family get togethers so much. Most of my family is gone now, and those I still have are far from where I'm living.

    Anyway, this was a wonderful memory and I'm glad you thought to re-post it for today.

    ~ D-FensDogG

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, I'm quasi-family now. I claimed it.

      I'm at that part of life where the youngsters are the old guard and so many of the family members who defined the holiday traditions are gone. I miss them, also. But I'm trying to make some new ones and share the stories of the past for the ones who didn't get to experience them first hand.

      Have the best holiday you can and no one can ask for more, right? Thank you for the kind words, my brother.

      Delete
  9. Oh, Cherdo. That's beautiful. Thanks for sharing your memories.

    Love,
    Janie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for stopping by, Janie-poo!

      Delete
  10. What beautiful memories that should be cherished. This is when I say, write these down (if you haven't already) in a scrapbook that you can hand down to your children. Stories with old pictures just seems so right. I can picture old pictures of your family there and your grandmother-how wonderful

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a dream of retirement scrapbooking! I may be calling you for ideas...you have it down pat!

      Delete
  11. This is so beautiful, I have tears rolling down my cheek

    cheers, parsnip

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, no! Parsnip, I treasure the memories - even the sad ones that are nestled in between all the happy ones. Love you, friend!

      Delete
  12. This is so touching, dear Cherdo (teary-eyed here). Happy Thanksgiving to you, my cherished friend. Hugs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy, happy holidays, sweet friend! Love and hugs to you.

      Delete
  13. Sometimes certain objects are loaded with sentiment and memories. Our house is now full of them and the challenge is finding homes for many of these things while we're able.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've got to downsize so I can find the true treasures...and quick! Happy holidays, Stephen!

      Delete
  14. Since I had not heard of you in 2014 it is the first time I have read this, have to say I liked this post it was so bloody touching and moving

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How sweet of you to say so, Jo-Anne! Thanks so much. Happy holidays.

      Delete
  15. I'll get too weepy if I start thinking of Thanksgivings past. Onwards...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But weren't we lucky to have experienced them, Mirka? That is what I hold on to. Happy holidays, dear.

      Delete
  16. What a beautiful story! Thanks for telling us about such wonderful times from your childhood. So true - Thanksgiving is nothing without family to share it with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, indeed! I love to hear others' stories, too. Families are the same all over the world.

      Delete
  17. My most favorite holiday, Thanksgiving is a special day to spend time with friends and family. Which, I'm blessed to report, are the same people.

    ReplyDelete
  18. A wonderful piece of memoir. I never spent too much time at either of my grandmother's houses who also lived in West Virginia. My maternal grandmother had so many neat things in her big old house. I don't know what happened to any of it after she died. I think one of my aunts got it and probably sold it.

    When I was at my mother's house in TN this past summer and picking up a few things that I wanted to keep, I went ahead and took an old tea set that my parents got as a wedding present in 1951. None of my other brothers and sisters wanted it, but since I had remembered seeing it throughout the years when I was growing up it meant something to me.

    Hope your December is absolutely wonderful.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    ReplyDelete
  19. What a touching story. I have never had china...I know it's an important heirloom to pass on and your story is proof of that. It is interesting that there's one family member who always seems to hold everyone together.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for your personal yada, yada, yada,
Love, Cherdo