Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Such Very Fragile Things

He wasn’t really my uncle— or any kin at all—and he wasn’t a large man—but my Uncle Dutch loomed large in my life as a child growing up in a West Texas ranching community. How my father, a much younger man, met him, I don’t know, but the short, paunchy, bow-legged man with a weather-worn face, thinning hair, and a cigar in the corner of his mouth is one of my dearest memories.

Maier House, corner of Twohig ad David, San Angelo TX

Born to Catholic parents who were virtual pioneers in my hometown, he had only one brother who had only one son. He never married, so I became the little girl he’d have doted on. The house in which he was born and in which he died was filled with his mother’s belongings, many of which he gave to me. A velvet “reticule”, long jeweled hatpins, a china doll head, a fancy silver napkin ring, a monogrammed (sewing?) bag, and finally, on the eve of my high school graduation, a delicate china jam pot. 

He came one Saturday morning bearing it unwrapped in his rough hands. In my mind’s eye, I can still see him holding it out to me and still hear my murmurings of pure delight. I have treasured everything—especially the jam pot—all these many years, always saying it would go to the first granddaughter when she graduated from high school.
Sometimes Hanna asks me to open my grandmother’s china cabinet and let her hold the tiny treasure, and I do. She loves it already, and my heart swells with gratitude for her intuitive understanding that she is holding a piece of my heart. Perhaps she will have a daughter or a granddaughter who will love it, too. I hope so.
I was away at college when Uncle Dutch died in the same house in which he was born. Someone bought it to save it from the relentless destruction of those who wanted to make the town “new” and moved it somewhere outside the city.  

He brought it to me

On a warm May morning

just before I graduated

from high school.

Uncle Dutch,

who was not really my uncle,

but I was the only little girl

he ever had so

he gave me things

which once belonged to his mother,

a pioneer gentlewoman

of our town.

I treasured them--

those long hat pins,

the china doll head,

the silver napkin ring,

the velvet reticule,

and so much more.

But now, this day,

he brought me

a jam pot.

With his rough, callused

rancher’s hands,

he thrust it toward me,

unwrapped and gleaming in the sun,

and I caught my breath

in awe and delight.

So much joy in such a

small, every-day object

with fluted porcelain edges and

birds and flowers in gilded gold.

I think it recalled

good times for him, and so

he shared it from his soul

with me.

I took it into my hands

and into my heart


Now it waits for the day

my first granddaughter graduates.

It will be hers, and

she must love it, too, or

my heart will break.

You see,

Hearts and antique jam pots

are such very fragile things.

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