Easter Season Ramblings and Musings
It’s been just over one year since my grandmother Hornsby passed away. It’s taken this long to get all her affairs in order (bless my little brother for handling all that) and over the last week we’ve been emptying the storage shed where her knicks and knacks and pots and pans and lipsticks and candlesticks and Christmas ornaments and Easter baskets have lain dormant. With no specific directions regarding to whom she wished items to be passed on, it was left to us to decide. The things that none of her sons laid claim to immediately are now stacked in boxes in my mom’s garage. I went over there yesterday to sort and photograph items I thought our out-of-state cousins might remember or want.
Pawing through fragile collections wrapped poorly in newspaper, I was struck repeatedly by old familiar smells I hadn’t smelled in what felt like decades. The scent of Keri lotion, Flex shampoo, and Pears vegetable glycerine soap. The decomposing plastic smell of 1970s-era artificial poinsettias. Boxes marked “Linens” stuffed with towels and sheets, all in her favorite color (purple) called me to put my face inside and inhale. Sure, I realized I was inhaling dust and dirt and probably mites and god-knows, but I was also breathing in her house and her bathroom and her bedroom where I slept on the floor on a pallet of blankets when I’d spend the night.
I found a box filled with purple glass figurines and her bedside clock and a Ziploc bag of old emery boards and hair pins. I looked for her nail buffer with no luck. A brass perfume set was empty, as it has been for as long as I can remember. Two dozen glass vases, of all shapes and sizes but still only one color: purple. A countertop magnifying mirror and a plastic comb. A canister of “Dusting Powder”, its fragrance long vanished.
In other boxes, from the kitchen: an assortment of brown ceramic liquor bottles from 1940s Eastern Europe that once stood in a soldierly row above the kitchen window. A shiny copper teapot that belongs in my mind only on top of her refrigerator, never used to actually boil water. Her toast rack. Jesus, the toast rack. She used it every morning of her life as long as I knew her, to hold her 2-4 pieces of Pepperidge Farm thin-sliced white toast spread with Fleishmann’s oleo. She’d arrange her breakfast — toast, Grape Nuts, pot of Earl Grey, packets of Equal — on a floral-printed melamine tray in the kitchen, then carry it to her chair by the living room window and eat. The toast crusts she’d give to the dog, Fero, and after Fero was gone, Ursa.
Items collected from her desk, which was her father’s desk before her and mine now, tossed into a smaller box: 3-hole punch, paperclips, binder clips, rubber erasers; the erasable pens she loved to use and which are nearly impossible to find anymore; yellow notepads; three glass paperweights; one silver paperweight that she once told me was the result of her having left the kettle on the stove so long it melted into a pointed blob; a stapler; more staples than any person would ever need in a lifetime (no pun intended). I took the hole punch.
In the bottom of a box destined for a yard sale, I made one final inspection to be sure. I found a plastic bag of maybe 50 unused Christmas cards. Dammit. She loved Christmas. She loved Christmas cards, sending and receiving although she didn’t send many in her later years. I wish I’d thought then to help her to address some cards, to stamp them and put them in the dumb mailbox for her. She kept just about every single Christmas card she’d ever gotten. She’d hang them like garlands on string strung up over the windows at Christmas; every year the same cards, plus a few new ones. She got fewer and fewer cards as the years passed on; I assume because her friends were passing on, too. I kept the bag of unused cards. Someone needs to send them.
Under that I found a glass storage jar, lidless and marked “Grits”, and could not stop laughing through Christmas card tears. The thought of my grandmother cooking or even eating grits is hilarious, much less actually buying grits and then storing them in a jar labeled such. Even now, thinking about it, I’m a mess of wet-faced giggles at the kitchen table. But then, I’m also bewildered why she even kept the sad grits jar with no lid. She once told me, after I’d broken … something, I can’t remember what, but whatever it was I was despairingly heartsick over it and she said, “Everything has a lifespan” and it quit my crying right away. I understood that. I think about that phrase often. It’s one of the best life lessons one can learn, though at the time it didn’t occur to me that it goes for humans as well as things.
Same box, different holiday. Easter eggs. A gallon size bag of the pastel plastic Easter eggs she used every year. They must be 30 years old. Plastic Easter eggs never die. She’d fill them with Brach’s jelly beans (the regular sized ones and the miniature ones, which were my favorite) and Cadbury Mini Eggs and hide them around the house and the yard along with a few Cadbury Creme Eggs. A long-handled pink Easter basket, too. I took it and the bag of eggs. I’m not sure why; I won’t be hiding Easter eggs for kids for a while yet and I don’t really have anywhere to store them. But it didn’t seem right to put them into a yard sale, after she’d taken care to preserve them this long. What a lover of tradition and festival. What a remarkable woman. I wish I knew some kids to hide eggs for this Easter. I have the perfect basket and everything.
It’s so heartwarming to read that you had such a good relationship with your grandmother.
I feel like the thought that every thing and person has a lifespan helps us realize their value and importance to us in the right moment. Thank you for sharing moments like this one and passing on your grandmother’s wisdom (and awesome recipes!).
Best wishes from the Netherlands,
I’d never realized that part of the meaning, but you are completely right. Thank you for your observation. And thank you for writing.
Hilah, That was incredibly touching.Reading this letter made me go back to walking through my own Grandmothers items when she had passed. Your descriptions were touching and beautiful. I just loved the “everything has a lifespan” It’s so very true. ~hugs~ Thank you for your touching words.
Thank you, Kristina. I’m glad you got something out of reading this, as I certainly did from writing it. XOXO
There is something so wonderfully authentic about you. The way you cook, the way you share, the way you are. This story, this memory you shared makes me like others reach back and remember those wonderful times and traditions of my grandmother, mother and father. Thank you.
Thank you, Wendy. It makes me happy to know you are thinking of your loved ones, too. This is corny, but I’m reminded of the movie An American Tale, when the little mice are looking up at the same moon even though they are miles apart. 🙂
It’s cool that I’m reading this JUST after I watched your granny’s lemon bars recipe on youtube. I’m away from my grandma now (I’m away for college), but this surely made me think about her cooking, her home, her teapot, her old-lady stuff which I adore. I’ll go back home for a few days next weekend, an I’ll give her the biggest hug ever. Thanks, Hilah!
Greetings from Chile – your biggest fan.
What perfect timing. I’m so happy to hear you have a sweet grandma. Give her a hug from me, too! 🙂
P.S. I’m looking at your website now.
NO WAAAAAY, thanks sooo much! I just started that blog a few weeks ago, wish I had something a little better by now, like, I reaally am your fan, this is so cool!
Ps: Im making your home fries for lunch 🙂
Thanks for posting your blog. I was worried you wouldn’t after so long. I asked my self, “Self? Where did March go?” Hoot!. Your post filled the quiet of march with memories of my mother. She used to make special Cream of Wheat with lumps. I sure miss them.
Thanks again for posting and double thanks for the taco recipe! Tasty!
Hi Terry. Thanks for sharing your mom’s special recipe. 😉 Isn’t it nuts how the tiniest things are the things we remember most?
Like all of the people who have commented on this posting I found it very moving.
My mom passed away in July, 2012. Up to that point my sister had held the “durable power of attorney,” which meant that she made the financial and medical decisions as long as our mother was alive. (Mother suffered from “cognitive impairment.”) She worked hard at it and did it well. Once our mother was gone I was the executor of the estate. Fortunately for me my brother and both of my sisters were a great help in settling things.
Our father died in 1999. He was a terrible pack-rat, so cleaning out the house and the garage to get the property ready to sell was a LOT of work. Lots of furniture and other items donated to a shelter for battered women. Lots of bulky trash on the tree lawn. Like you we kept finding items that we might not have remembered otherwise.
I particularly remember a Dansk procelain vase that I had seen in Montreal in the summer of 1977 and bought for my mother for that year’s Christmas. Apparently she never thought much of it — she never used it — although I thought and still think that it’s beautiful.
I have it now, but I haven’t found a use for it in my apartment. It kind of reminds me that maybe I never understood or appreciated her. My sister, Susan, thinks that it’s “gorgeous.”
On a different, more up-beat subject: Yesterday I bought Lisa Fain’s new “Homesick Texan” Have you seen it? It looks like a lot of fun. Quite a few recipes that I want to try.
Oh, Pat. Maybe your mom liked it so much she didn’t want to use it for fear of breaking it, or there was never a “nice enough” occasion for it. People do funny things like that sometimes. I hope you don’t dwell on it too much.
It’s good to hear your siblings and you all got along and helped each other through the hard time of the estate dealings. Many families don’t make it through the stress or the stress just makes an already tense relationship worse.
I heard about Lisa’s new book just yesterday! I’m going to look for a copy. I love her first one.
Well great !! My co-worker and I all tearfull ! In a good way of course.
Happy Easter !
Happy Easter to you, too, Bill! And your co-worker. 🙂
Just found your website searching for a cheese enchilada recipe, and I stumbled upon the blog. This is very heartwarming and reminds me of my grandmother.. We were too young to be involved with the cleaning out process, but I remember all her special trinkets and lavender perfume like it was yesterday.
Great posts, Ill be bookmarking this site!
It’s amazing how smells especially have such strong memories connected to them. Thanks for writing. 🙂
Hope you try the enchiladas some time!
I’m glad that I found this blog post again. Your grandma sounds like a sweet lady. My dad unexpectedly passed away 3 and a half weeks ago. Of all of his things, the only ones I really wanted were a dirty old hat and a hanky, because these are the things that he used every day. And seriously, who carries around a hanky? It’s such a warm feeling to see his hat sitting on the dresser, as if he had placed it there after a long day and will return back to it in the morning. Actually, the last time I saw my dad, I took with me the only thing of my grandma’s that I wanted when she passed away a couple years ago — an old giant dictionary. I would look up words in it the few times that we played Scrabble. She kept a bunch of old articles and pictures in it. There were also several flowers that she had pressed in it. I wish I would have asked her where those flowers came from. I imagine they’re mostly flowers my grandpa had picked from their house. I also kind of think that the dictionary may have been purchased for the sole purpose of pressing flowers. Anyways, it’s amazing how the little things can be the most special. Thank you for sharing these things about your grandma Hornsby.
Oh, Katricia. I am so sorry to hear about your father. I can’t even imagine.
Thank you for sharing about his hat and hanky and the flower dictionary. That sounds just lovely. I’m glad you have those things to remember them by.