A few weeks ago I was talking to Michael Strand, a ceramic artist who lives in North Dakota. He said something that I’ve been thinking about ever since. He said there are two things that are important about an object, the aesthetics of the object and how the object was acquired. This made me think of this story.
I’m not sure when it started but I can’t remember a time when my grandmother didn’t think she was going to die. Every day, that very day. Ever since I was a child and we would visit my dad’s parents it was always the same conversation. Grandma Guyot: “You better tell me what you want. I’m not going to be around much longer and if I don’t know what you want, you won’t get anything.” Me: dead silence.
It was an uncomfortable concept especially when I was young. I believed that if I picked an object that I wanted from her house this sealed her fate and she would drop dead right then and there. This went on for years. Yes, there were other anxieties. She went around the house and unplugged every appliance during a storm. She wouldn’t drive a car because of an accident in the 1950’s. And most prominent were the borderline hoarding tendencies that, unfortunately I have inherited. It’s possible that this last anxiety was responsible for what happened next.
When I was in my mid twenties my mom and my sister and I visited my grandmother by ourselves without my dad. My grandmother asked the question again as she always had. This time, I decided I would answer her. There was this little tea set that sat on top of her kitchen cabinet. It was really high up there so I could never get a close look at it but I always thought it was beautiful. It was a teapot and a cream and sugar set that had an Asian scene painted on it. So I spoke the words, “Well, I guess I’d like to have that tea set.”
Grandma Guyot said, “That’s something you give somebody you LOVE not just to give away.” Oh yes she did. Needless to say I left in tears while my sister hauled boxes of china out to her car. My mom said we were never going back there without my dad again. But we did. After my dad passed away and my grandma went into the nursing home I would make the three-hour drive a few times a year to visit her. Sometimes I would break her out of the home and take her back to her house. I didn’t do it because I wanted anything or because we had a close relationship, I did it because it was the right thing to do.
After Grandma passed away my uncle and I were at her house and he asked me if there was anything I wanted. I marched into the kitchen and pointed and we got the tea set down. I felt like I had won. My husband calls it the Spite Tea Set. He’s right. I have no idea of the significance of it or how my grandmother acquired it. After I cleaned 40 years of grease off I realized it is actually pretty hideous. The painting is crude and doesn’t line up properly and there is a little clay shaving inside the teapot that is permanently glazed and fired there. It’s poorly crafted and it now sits inside a cabinet where I can’t even see it. It has bad juju.
So I think its time to get rid of it. I think I’ll box it up and take it to Goodwill today. Except there is this…That really is something you should give someone you love, not just to give away. I mean, it was my Grandma’s. Maybe I’ll take it in next week.