This week, my grandmother shuffled off this mortal coil. She was 78, mean, and one of the people I have most adored in my life.
I left Seattle and our whirlwind new life of doctor's and teacher's appointments, meetings with specialists and new diet regimens. My mother and I descended upon Grandma's double wide trailer in Onalaska, WA, to make some sense of what she'd left behind and feel if her spirit was still hanging around.
It wasn't. (For this I was glad. It would be totally in her character to haunt a thirty-year-old trailer with nicotine-stained ceilings rather than move onto celestial bliss. If I had felt her there, I would have shouted at her to GET AN AFTERLIFE, ALREADY.)
I unrolled flannel packets of tarnished silverware and marvelled at the daintiness and uselessness of the pieces. Grandma had packed away at least four silver sugar spoons. There was an olive spear. Seafood forks. Dozens of butter knives. A spoon made for easily scooping relish out of a jar and onto one's plate. At one point, I had unpacked half a drawer of silver and had it spread out over the dining room table in front of me in all of its anachronistic glory.
"Why did she have all this shit?" I asked my mom.
She looked up from Grandma's desk, where she was feeding fifteen-year-old power bills into the shredder.
"Some of it was Ba Ba Bessie's and Grandma Gayle's and Grandpa Ralph's. Oh, Honey, she loved to hold a proper Christmas dinner. We had some big Christmas dinners when we were kids, with all the china and the crystal and the silver. She kept it all these years I guess because she was a pack rat. And no one else wanted it."
I wanted it. I loved that she knew so much about the uses of curved bone plates, salt cellars, fish servers, pie servers, and cream pitchers. She could tell the difference between a mustard jar and a celery holder. She had, and used until very recently, crystal dishes made specifically for serving bunches of whole green onions. She enjoyed the gentility such items brought to a table, even to one's person; I know this because of the way she softened and brightened when she talked about them to me. Where she learned all of this is a mystery, but knowing about it, and amassing collections of it, brought dignity into her life.
So, even though I have nowhere to put the silver, I packed it all in a paper shopping bag and loaded in into the back of my car. It's now sitting in a heap of dirty flannel on my kitchen island, awaiting silver polish. (Which of course I do not own.)
Perhaps, since Grandma made us promise not to give her a funeral, I will hold a dinner in her honor.
I'll use every last relish spoon.