Ancestral Crockery

Working this morning, but I am struggling to know where to start. There’s a lot to do and everything is important to me, but how to start what?

I delay. I go to brush my teeth and I turn on the radio. Holly McNish is on Lauren Laverne’s radio show. She’s reading a poem about the loss of her grandmother. It’s beautiful and it makes me think.

The poem is called ‘heirloom’ and the opening line is ‘It’s not your jewellery that I want Gran, it’s your butter dish.’ She recalls time spent with her grandmother eating toast and watching TV. To listen to Hollie talk about her loss and to read the poem scroll to an hour and twelve minutes on this morning’s 6 Music show.

Fifteen years since losing my grandmother Georgie, it is the ordinary times that I still miss. It’s our Sunday afternoon chats. It’s eating together.

I have my Granny’s cereal bowls and coffee cups. Unexciting things, but I loved them as a child and I still love them now. They’re a dark chocolate brown with a matt finish. Solid pottery. An uneven glaze making them all individual. Dishwasher proof. I use them every day – a coffee cup is on my desk now as I write this. I never use them without thinking about my Granny. I remember holiday breakfasts at her house as a child. I remember growing older and developing a taste for thick black coffee perfect in the little cups. I remember Granny’s wonderful cooking and our last conversation about whether or not sausages should be pricked before cooking in the oven. (She was moving towards not.)

Near the top of my family history board game, Lines And Ladders, is the discussion prompt, ‘You have family heirlooms’. I worry about this prompt sometimes when we land there, because I don’t want people to feel that they have to talk about something grand. The word ‘heirloom’ seems to point to treasure. Yet these things passed through generations are precious simply because they connect us to our ancestors. These connections are sometimes personal memories or sometimes stories handed on. The provenance of the items is just as significant as for any work of fine art. My cereal bowls are invaluable, but only to me.

The heirloom prompt in Lines And Ladders sometimes led to conversations about jewellery – a necklace gifted to a young bride in a story shared by Arwen and Kelda Heaton – but it always led to stories about people.

I’ve refilled my coffee cup and I’m thinking about Hollie and her more recent loss. My grief is less raw now and the memories are happy. Using the crockery makes me feel close to my Granny Georgie again. I hope that in fifteen years time, the butter dish will bring the same comfort that my coffee cup brings me.

Me and Granny Georgie in the summer of 2000

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