I ripped the strapping tape from the boxes and dove in, removing tissue paper puffs and carefully unwrapping dozens of packed pieces. It was a trip down memory lane. With delicate "clinks," I placed each demitasse on the island in the kitchen and attempted to identify matching saucers.
"I remember this one," I said, directing my comment to my husband. "We bought this one for her when we were over in Luxembourg."
He shrugged his shoulders admitting he remembered his mother's collection, but not the individual pieces.
"And I think they bought this one at an antique store in Macon on the weekend we got married," I remarked, holding up another one in scrutiny. "Remember?"
We turned each cup and saucer upside down and read the stamps aloud—Wedgwood, Limoges, Old Royal Bone China, Johnson Bros Old British Castle, etc. With each piece, I could see Gene's mother organizing her collection on the triangular shelves of a corner cabinet of her Chattanooga home. She had an appetite for the finer things in life.
In a much larger china cabinet, Margaret showcased a Wedgwood collection that would make an antiques dealer salivate.
"This is Wedgwood Queensware," she said to me one day running her fingers over the raised, white embossed grape leaves that lined the edge of a blue-lavender plate. "They call this piece a pedestal compote dish. We bought these two dishes at an estate sale on Lookout Mountain."
She shifted her attention to another shelf in the cabinet. "The pieces with the chalky surfaces are also Wedgwood, but these are Jasperware," she added, hoping that I would take more than a passive interest in her collection.
Like a child in a candy store, I admired the pieces from behind the glass, scared I would damage one of the dainty trinket boxes, miniature cream pitchers, or urns if I dared touch them. We often purchased a decorative plate or vase for Margaret for her birthday or Christmas, so I knew how expensive the items were.
She collected demitasses, Wedgwood, vintage silverware, and Pigeon Forge pottery until her accident—that's the moment when everything changed. She didn't get out much after that. We witnessed her physical and mental decline.
When Gene's dad died in 2009, Margaret moved to a nearby assisted living facility. We packed up the house and brought many of the boxes of collectibles to our home. They slumbered in the darkness of our basement for six years without anyone picking them up and talking about their beauty, histories, or origins.
But I woke them up last week. I plucked dozens of Margaret's collectibles from the boxes and wiped the dust from the surfaces. I photographed each one and began placing the items up for sale on eBay. The task made us a bit somber, but we'd much rather the pieces go to people who love them as much as Margaret did than continue to collect dust and cobwebs in storage.
We will keep a few select pieces and display them in our dining room—a shrine to a woman we miss so much.
FREE Shipping and Handling. Project Keepsake is a collection of 55 nonfiction stories about the origins, histories, and memories behind keepsakes—a pocketknife, a cake pan, a ring, a Bible, a hat, a wallet, etc. The last chapter guides readers through the process of writing keepsake stories.
And so I've been thinking a lot about Margaret this week and remembering the times we shared. I can see her sitting on the end of the sofa with a book in one hand and a leg folded underneath her. I've caught myself humming "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "In the Mood," because she loved Big Band music so much, almost as much as she loved opera and Jose Carreras. I've thought about the days following her mastectomy—how she lifted her shirt and showed me her scar saying, "I want you to know what it's like." I've thought about her holding her beloved Cairn Terrier, Killer, and changing her voice like a ventriloquist, as if he was talking to us. I remembered how she cackled the day she showed us a fake tattoo she'd stenciled on her arm.
But I keep going back to her last few days in this world, as we sat by her bed and sang to her and talked to her—her eyes closed tightly and her breathing growing more and more labored.
"Open a window," one of the Hospice nurses suggested. "Let her soul fly away."
It flew away in the night time.
Her collection brought her great happiness. Each piece held a memory.
Margaret brought me great happiness—each moment part of my memory now.