When I was a little girl, perhaps 11 or 12, I was out in the maple woods beyond the cow pasture on our farm. I bent to crawl under a fence and my eye caught something white glinting in the earthy leaves and moss, whiter and smoother than any rock that would have been likely to be there. I don’t remember why I was in the woods; I know that some of my siblings were with me. I tugged at the white shard in the dirt and to my surprise, pulled out a tiny intact teacup from a child’s tea set. The ceramic was stained from a long period in the dirt. I tucked the teacup into my pocket and added it to my little collection of treasures at home. I have it still, along with a tiny Eiffel Tower, a glass swan from my Corning Glass Works trip in grade school, and sundry other trinkets that remind me of a place or time long ago.
Last weekend while visiting my parents at their farm in NY, the memory of finding that incongruous little teacup in the woods came back to me when I heard a piece of the farm story that was new to me. I knew that my parents bought their farm in 1964 from a woman named Doris, whose husband had died in a car crash in which she and her son were survivors. What I didn’t know before was that they had a little girl named Mary Grace age 5, and a son Kevin age 4, who also died in the crash. Doris was in a coma for a period of time, and a well-meaning friend removed the children’s toys from the house and took them out into the woods and dumped them. This is known because a neighbor who was an avid bird-watcher stumbled upon a pile of perfectly good toys just sitting there in the woods and took them home. She later discovered that the toys had belonged to Mary Grace and Kevin, and wanting no part of this connection to the town tragedy, discarded them. So the question in my mind, of course, has to do with the possibility that my tiny teacup could have belonged to one Mary Grace, a little girl who met her end far too soon in a car crash November 4 1962, just a year before I was born in November 1963. Although there’s an eerie element to this story, there’s a part of me that likes the possible connection– that I could hold a teacup that Mary Grace played with, in the same house that I grew up in, many years before.
What does this have to do with a blog about gratitude? The obvious connection has to do with being thankful for life because we never know when it will be taken from us. But mixed in there somewhere is also an appreciation for serendipity and the interconnectedness of human beings. Like the old Harry Chapin song “All my life’s a circle. sunrise and sundown, moon rolls through the nighttime ‘til the daybreak comes around. All my life’s a circle, still I wonder why, seasons spinning ‘round again, years keep rolling by.”
Ernie the inventor, some 80 years old and a widower now, makes treasures out of forgotten scraps of stuff. “Come to my place”, he says, “I want to give you something.” So we go, my parents and sister, step-daughter, niece and I, prowling his porch and admiring shovels sprouting ears and eyes, iron twisted into shapes, bowls and plates fused together like faces of a flower. Niece Jen leaves with a sparkle of beads and wire wrapped around a vintage Coke bottle; a hummingbird feeder for her back yard. My mom carries a flower-face, my dad the metal rod to stand it in a garden. My sister chooses a small snowman crafted out of wire, parted from his parent who stands three feet high. And Grace and I take away a metal star, which we will hang at Christmas and twine with white lights, and think of Ernie the inventor, a generous soul, some 80 years old, who crafts with his hands and makes people smile.
The jewelry pieces that I own were almost all gifts to me, mostly handcrafted. These little bits of glass, beads and sparkle, put together by an artist somewhere, are reminders of the people that love me–husband, sisters, step-kids, friends. I’m grateful not just for the gifts themselves but for what they represent, and especially on days when I feel unlovely or not up to the challenges that face me, I choose a piece of jewelry, and wear it into my day, conscious of keeping that person close to my heart and hands. These tiny portable gifts are a daily reminder that I am known and loved.