Saturday, January 30, 2010

The China Set

I just came across a piece of writing that I had thought lost. I am so glad I found it!!! In college I took a writing course where I discovered, after years of thinking myself a terrible writer because of the discouragement and misunderstanding of previous teachers, I really like the way I write! While taking this class, I wrote a paper on my great-grandmother. It isn't anything special, but it is the first piece of writing of which I have ever been proud. I have decided to copy it down here where, unless the internet explodes, I am not likely to lose it again.

This is dedicated to my Mema and Papa.

The China Set

I have a china set that my great-grandmother, GranGran, painted beautiful flowers and roses upon for me. I can't quite remember the year she gave it to me. It seems as if I've always had it. It was stressed to me how fragile and precious the china set is. I have never put it on display. I have never filled the little cups with water and played "tea party" with it. Somehow that would make it seem just like any other china set. It stays in the same tattered and worn, tape-covered, cardboard box in which it came to me. The pieces are still in the same ripped and yellowed tissue paper. It stays in the top of my closet.

I would take it down every few weeks and set up the cups and saucers on my bed. I would then step back and look at it. I would study its beauty and its detail. After a few minutes I would wrap the individual pieces back up in their individual pieces of tissue paper, place them back in their individual spots in the box and put the box back into the top of my closet.

I was never great friends with my GranGran. She was never very kind to me and I disliked going to her house. However, I loved looking at her paintings. They were delicate and meticulous. Each petal, leaf and vine was placed with precision and in soft, subtle colors. It was difficult for me to understand how such lovely things could come fro such a crabby, impatient, old woman.

Though her spirit was strong, her body was not. She fell often and broke her hips and wrists several times.

One day when I was in fourth grade, she went to the hospital and did not return home. She had congested heart failure and some blood clots in her arm. They had to remove it up to her elbow.

I went to visit her. She looked so weak and frail. She kept moving her arm in conversation as if it was still completely there. I tried really hard to not look at it, but it was difficult not to with her moving it about like that.

Not only had there been a change in her body, but there had been a change in her personality. It was as if with the nasty clot they had also amputated her nasty attitude. She acted happy to see me. She listened to what I had to say rather than acting as if my voice was an annoyance to her. I had fun talking with her! I looked forward to visiting her. She began to take time to tell me stories from her life: Before she painted china she worked at a factory making decorative bows and frills for the display boxes on the walls in the complementary wrapping area of department stores. Her mother was full blooded Native American, but it was never talked about in her father's family. She smoked a pipe all of her life. It was hard to envision that without laughing. I had a new-found love, enjoyment and appreciation for my GranGran and I thought about her often.

One night, we arrived home late from church and there was a message from my grandfather on our answering machine. It was odd to hear his voice; usually my grandmother was the one who called. I was also somewhat startled by the sound of his voice. It was still deep and authoritative, but a little less controlled.

His voice had always been strong as a rock. You could lean on it. Tough as nails, just like his mother. Now it wasn't so sturdy. There was a small crack in the rock.

He said, "Uh, Julie, it's your dad. Give me a call when you get this."

Idiosyncrasies such as 'uh' or 'um' are not characteristic of my grandfather's speech. That was a crack in the rock. His voice was a little softer and slower than usual - almost timid. Another crack in the rock. Cracked rocks can easily shatter. I was unnerved.

My mother sent my little brother and me to bed. As I lie in bed with a book open, I heard the soft murmur of my mother's voice and could tell she was on the phone. I sneaked out of bed and stole down to the end of the hallway so that I could get a good ear of what my mother was saying. I could tell what was said on the other end of the phone when she said, "Oh, dad. I'm so sorry."

When she hung up the phone I stepped out from my hiding place, eyes full of tears and questions. I didn't have to ask. My mother said, "Yes, dear. GranGran died in the hospital today."

Tears began to stream down my face, but my mother's eyes were dry. I could not understand why. She said she had known it was coming. GranGran was old and it was her time.

However, this was my first encounter with death. It was difficult for me to imagine GranGran not being there at Christmas, sitting in her chair with her hands in her lap, not saying a word. It was difficult to imagine never visiting her old-lady-smelling apartment or never receiving another one of her beautiful, hand-painted gifts.

We were unable to attend her funeral. My parents explained that it was too far away, we couldn't miss school and they couldn't miss work. I didn't understand these excuses. Since we couldn't be there, I imagine what it would look like:

GranGran, laid out in her best dress, with her hair and make-up done in a fashion she never would have done herself. Fragile and beautiful, just like her china.

I realize that if I were to write this story now there are several changes I would make, but I love that I have this. It is the first piece of writing with which I really sat and spent a lot of time going through the writing process and researching. It is a beautiful memory!

1 comment:

  1. Many hot tears flowing over here.
    I love you Lindsay!




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