Treasures in the garage

Calgary Herald, March 3. 2018: The cream pitcher has a wide spout with gold trim, an ornate white handle and a red design mimicking Ukrainian embroidery. The red in the pattern symbolizes passion, happiness, love and cheerfulness — all things you’d be pleased to pour into your cuppa. The pitcher’s geometric flowers are bordered in black, which symbolizes the earth farmers work to feed their people. I don’t think the elegant swoopy ridges under the spout mean much of anything. I think Kronester of Bavaria just put them there for show.

I wonder when the pitcher first poured out a spot of milk (or perhaps a drop of cream) into a matching tea cup after dinner. I wonder what people around the table were talking about as they sipped their coffee or tea. And most of all, I wonder who owns the dishes that are wrapped in yellowing paper and carefully stacked together in a china barrel in the corner of my garage.

They’ve been there since 2001 when a friend at work asked me to store them until she could get the crate to her aunt in Edmonton. I said sure and promptly forgot all about it. She did too, apparently. She moved to the States, I think, and over the years I piled a couple of old garden hoses and other junk on top of the crate in the corner.

I can only hope my pal’s aunt is holding her own in Edmonton and that’s she’s not pining too much for the pretty red and white dishes. I’m guessing they were her mother’s, or maybe even her grandmother’s. Maybe the dishes were a wedding present. Or maybe the bride started collecting the set piece by piece before she even met her handsome young man. It’s hard not to wonder. There’s a story in every old dish.

Which means there’s a library or 20 on eBay. You can scroll through endless old tea cups selling for 10 or 15 bucks. Looks like I could sell my gramma’s Royal Albert Val d’Or teapot for $200 if only it didn’t have that big chip in the spout. Bet my gramma was pissed when that happened. Her plates, white with gold around the edges, are in better shape. I hauled them out of the box for a dinner party once but felt her disappointment when I loaded them in the dishwasher instead of washing them in the sink (as if!).  So the plates are collecting dust in the basement and the rest of the Royal Albert is in the box in the garage near the abandoned Ukrainian china.

I am starting to get rid of the dishes, assorted boxes of books and other dead people’s belongings that have found their way to me. I’ve promised my kids they’ll only have a pack of dental floss to deal with when I go (which I am not planning to do until I’ve had scores more trips to the dentist). A friend with Ukrainian roots and a big dining room will make good use of the creamer and the rest of that set. Gramma’s Royal Albert is going to Goodwill where maybe it will go home to an appreciative family that eats mac ‘n cheese in front of the TV. I like to think my grandmother, a practical prairie woman, would understand.

The books are trickier to unload. While trying to find a home for a 1907 set of Makers of Canada, a book seller sighed and told me he advises people not to bother dropping off old books at a thrift store. “You’re only making work for them,” he says, because generally the thrift store just tosses them out. Unless the books are in absolute pristine condition (few are) and you want to try selling them, you may as well take your great-grandparents’ prized encyclopedias to the dump yourself. We lucked out though — a book-loving friend took the Makers of Canada. Now they’re his kids’ problem.

I think my mom was trying to do us a favour by giving things away when she was dying back in the 1980s. A cousin I’d never heard of came to pay her respects and left toting a big blurry photo of a moose in a bevelled mahogany frame. The curio had hung in our dining room forever and our friends would inevitably ask why. I’ve often wished I had it in my dining room so I could tell the story of the moose that became like a pet to my gramma’s family when she was a little girl. I hope the kids of the cousin I’d never heard of don’t throw the photo out when they find it under some garden hoses in the corner of the garage. I hope they try to find a good home for our long-lost and much-loved big blurry moose.

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