Beautiful Things

My time staying in Mom’s little house is drawing to a close – tomorrow I return home, and someone else will finish sorting, tossing and reminiscing over photos, knick-knacks, and clippings that fall out of books. I’ve got a couple of boxes left to pack up, while my sister Timmy has been packing up the family china for me.

Actually, Mom had two or three sets of china from different family members; this one is the prettiest, but not the most valuable, because althought it’s Haviland, it’s “seconds.” That’s all my maternal grandparents could afford. You can see little flaws in the porcelain, and some of the pieces are missing, but that doesn’t reduce its value for me: Mom loved it and I love it too. It has little pink rosebuds and is improbably delicate for a rough-handed tomboy like me.

She had some beautiful things, but I’m struck by how many of them were damaged at some time in the past, and carefully repaired. There were many more beautiful things in the house years ago, but some of them actually belonged to an aunt and were sold to help keep her and her disabled son going. Mom worked hard and sacrificed to take care of other family members over the years, and all of that labor and worry resulted in a few knick-knacks that meant the most to her. She made and saved baby clothes, she kept some of her mother’s and sisters linens, she glued broken cups and steins together and used them for something else, and she kept broken crystal tucked away in a cupboard rather than throwing it out.

She had beautiful things, but they represented more than monetary value to her and they didn’t become garbage once they got damaged. She fixed them, when possible, because they represented people she loved, good times long past, and because she was a Depression kid who never threw anything useful out.

Now we live in an age when everything is disposable. “Use it and lose it” seems to be the motto many people live by. She found this modern world more and more incomprehensible, even as her vision faded and she wasn’t able to read the newspaper without help.

She held the line for a long time against loss and decay and forgetfulness, and maybe it’s better that she won’t be around to see how things will turn out in the years to come.

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