Childhood memories through a pepper shaker’s glass

I was doing the dishes the other night and once again, I took out one of those small wiry brushes that allow access to inaccessible corners of glassware or ceramics. I purposely bought those little brushes so I could see if I could get the inside of a small glass pepper shaker clean. For reasons I can’t explain, the pepper residue just won’t come off the inside of this tiny shaker. And as I was doing that it occurred to me that I’d been trying to get this little thing clean for about 2 months and I still hadn’t got there.

In the midst of doing what’s become almost a habit as part of doing the dishes, I stopped and asked myself, What are you doing? Why does this tiny little glass pepper mill that has no financial value matter so much to you, and apparently it really matters!

And when I thought about that I realized that this small object, smooth to the touch with rippled diagonal lines, elicits such strong memories for me of Sunday dinners in my childhood when there was almost always someone coming to dinner, an occasion at a time when having people over, not going out, was how special occasions got marked.

As a little girl, the child size of these must have been what appealed to me. I would often be asked by my mother to put them on the table from their usual resting spot in the china cabinet in the dining room, as if I was putting the cherry on top, the final accoutrements on the white linen table cloth as the guests arrived.

If it was Sunday, there was almost always someone coming for dinner. Uncles and aunts, my father’s parents, sometimes one of my eldest sister’s boyfriends and dinner, it seemed to me, would last a very long time.

Good china. White linen. Cutlery laid out correctly. The special silverware taken carefully from that heavy wooden box with the red velvet lining. My three older sisters moving back and forth between kitchen to dining room as a trio of servers  in that big old house in New Westminster, three storeys high. A fireplace in the the dining room, another one in the den. Beams on the ceilings. A sunroom. Window seats. Awnings. The kind of old house that few are lucky enough to live in now. The only time I’ve been able to call a house mine even if it was my parents who owned it.

After my parents died and their things were sorted and given away, I realized that these little glass salt and pepper shakers represent the feelings of togetherness, of family, that I have not had for a very long time. I made the decision to keep them when I could just as easily have given them away. And every time I look at them, they represent a link to a past that is a testimony to my mother who worked so hard as a home maker, to feed her family and mark special occasions properly. I never use them. They don’t work very well but that’s not the point.

It would have been my parent’s 73rd wedding anniversary today if they were still alive. They got married on February 25th, 1945, in Holy Trinity Church in Winnipeg at 6pm by a Reverend Findley. The reception was at the Marlborough Hotel. I only know this because I have my mother’s bride book and it has the details, along with details of what she wore and all the well wisher cards and strange long white ribbons with women’s names typed onto them, which must have been a custom at the time, the names of the attendees at the bridal showers held for her.

My parents eventually moved to New Westminster and they rented rooms in a house at 215 Fifth Avenue near Queen’s Park. There’s a receipt in this bridal book that details the cost of the monthly rent for these rooms. They paid $22.50 per month to a Mr. Taylor who, when he died, left them furniture and his son gave them a good deal on the house to buy it.

Maybe you have something that represents so much more to you than its physical value and even though it’s special, you haven’t explicitly acknowledged it yet, out loud that is. You haven’t really made it known to yourself even though your actions say it’s so.

All good de-cluttering books speak to keeping only those things in your life that you love. I de-cluttered before moving to Victoria and I can say that it’s good to look around my living space and have my eyes fall only upon only things that are meaningful to me and that I’m pleased with. Your mind engulfs the beauty and the joy of what those things represent and feels satisfied, not distracted or irritated or forced off balance which is what happens when your house if full of stuff that has no reason to be there.

In my life, and I expect in yours, these are the kinds of objects – the ones with much more meaning than that which is visible on the surface – that matter the most. Think about it a while and see if what I’m saying makes sense for you.

Using Imagery as Writing Muse

Rummaging through some papers, I found this image from a magazine stapled to something I had written on July 18, 1998.

I was in a writing group then that met monthly – or tried to –  and re-reading it brought me right back into the small living room in the house where we’d meet. It was an old house, up rickety stairs, rooms all chopped up.

I was thinking how much fun it used to be to sit in that group, a bunch of magazine pages ripped out haphazardly, each of us taking turns choosing which image to pick so that we could scribble away during a timed writing exercise, letting whatever words come to us as they came. It was a form of writing meditation.  I think 5 minutes was what we settled on back then.

I was thinking how much fun it would be to let other writers look at a photo on the blog and see what they could come up with. It’s kind of a nice idea, a way to share. And then, you could post what you’d written after your own timed five minutes at home. No cheating!

If you feel inclined to try and time yourself and write to the above image, and then add what you ended up writing into the comments, it would make things a million time more interesting around here. I could then add a new image every week with whatever I’d managed to come up with in my own timed 5 minutes.

Here’s what I wrote back then although I will admit, I changed a few things after sitting down to type it out before posting it here. I changed her name. I decided this woman was Turkish and so Isabella didn’t seem like the right name.

Gülçin, a name bestowed eighty-nine years earlier, reveled in the spicy warmth of the nicotine as it streamed through the shriveled opening of her throat, lingered for just a few seconds, and was then expunged, pushing its way against the afternoon’s hot wind like an apparition.

She was safe in her chair, her favorite place. That same chair that had balanced her when the roundness of her thighs had not crept round the wooden corners of the frame but had fit snugly, like foam, atop the smooth wooden cup of the seat.

Her cane, carved by her grandfather over a few months the summer she turned eight, had been her most constant companion in the last few years. She had remembered him sitting near the red rocks, and bits of grass at the cliff edge near their home, the sparkling sea like a rug as far as the eye could see to the horizon.

She’d sit on her porch, perched above the dusty street in that town she’d lived in since she’d married more than 70 years ago now, and she’d watch the youth pass by in the way a factory foreman might watch assembly line workers. She never barked out orders or even greetings. 

When a neighbor or familiar face passed, she’d remove the cigarette and blow the smoke between the space where her two front teeth used to be and in that subtle shift, they’d know they’d been acknowledged, they’d been seen. And it was enough.

Most of the time she would not even notice the strays barking, the wrestling of small boys whose bare feet raised the dust to feather their ankles, or the bustle of women, beautiful full girls, and slap-dashed-together mothers hurrying back from the market in preparation for another day of the cooking, washing, feeding, cleaning cycle. She was there and she wasn’t. She was with all of them and she was with the images of her past that greeted her just as real as company, adding excitement and grief, love and energy to what would turn out to be just another 12 hours, like the 12 hours before that, wrapped in heat and routine.

 She’d think back to her best friend as a child and the hours they’d spent playing in the back alleyways, listening to adults they knew only by the first names their mothers used to refer to them as they gossiped. Mostly they watched. Anything to escape the one room they each shared with three generations who had perfected the familial folk dance, weaving around each other, ducking anger, ignoring bodily functions and even the tears everyone would have preferred to have kept hidden if they’d had the luxury of privacy.

Usually around midday, she would sometimes feel the phantom lips of her deceased husband as if they were grazing her forehead. A tear-dropped wet bead of sweat would seep from beneath her white headscarf and slip over the band of folded skin that decorated her chest like a handmade necklace.

She had loved the memory of his lips. Not just because they had become as familiar as her own but because they embodied everything they had shared together; framing the rite of two-as-one even though he’d been gone for decades.