My granddaughter was three when she spotted the tiny pink cup and saucer in the dining room breakfront.
“That looks like it’s for a little girl.”
“Yes, it is small,” I agreed. “I think it was part of a set of demitasse cups, little cups for a special after dinner coffee.”
I had picked up the tiny Depression glass cup and saucer for $2 in a thrift shop more than forty years before. Mia was the first person who asked anything about it.
Opening the breakfront door, I took out the tiny cup, placed it in her opened hands and warned, “Hold it gently; it’s delicate.”
“Can I use it?”
And so began a tradition. Whenever Mia was here with her family for dinner, the little pink cup and saucer were substituted for her water glass at the table. No one minded re-filling her tiny vessel several times during the meal.
A few months ago, Mia, now almost thirteen, after placing the precious cup on the dining room table, shyly asked,
“Grandma, can I have this when … y’know when you…”
“When I am not here anymore?” I finished her thought.
“Mia, you can’t ask Grandma…” began her father, my son.
Cutting him off, I said, “Of course, she can. I am happy to know that she wants something that has always been special to me.”
Turning back to Mia, I added, “You won’t have to wait until I’m, y’know, not here anymore. I will surprise you with it on a special occasion.”
“Does that mean that I have to wait until I get married?” she lamented.
“Oh, we will see.”
The little pink cup is not what I had ever envisioned as something that my children or grandchildren would want. Somehow, I thought, or wished, they would want my books, Dept. 56 Christmas village, published essays, family photos.
But they don’t.
My sons want simple things that remind them of their childhood home. Like the now dented and rusted cookie jar that sat on the kitchen table when the boys came home from school. Like the crocheted afghan, made by their great-grandmother, a woman they never knew, which hung always on the back of the rocking chair in the den. Like the Christmas Creche which in addition to the traditional figures, features the feet, just the feet, of one shepherd, still glued in place. The rest of him was stolen by our puppy and hidden someplace we have never discovered.
Mia, as well as my other grandchildren, expect “surprises” at Grandma’s house. Years ago, a friend mentioned that the gifts her young grandchildren liked best were often those purchased in a dollar store. “For ten dollars, you go home with a filled shopping bag.”
And thus began the belief in Grandma’s magic closet. In the bottom, underneath the hanging clothes was a wicker basket, about the size of a shoebox. I made frequent trips to the dollar store to make sure the box was always filled. Dori, my first granddaughter, ran for the magic closet as soon as she got here.
“Oh! I don’t know,” I’d say, pretending concern. “I didn’t see anything there yesterday.”
Crawling way back under the clothes, she’d reach the box and squeal, “Grandma, it’s here and it’s got lots of stuff.”
Coloring books and crayons. Mardi Gras plastic beads, red, green, purple and gold. Alphabet flash cards. Jigsaw puzzles. A silver tiara and a magic wand.
Dori called one Sunday asking if her friend could come to dinner with the family. “I told her about you and she really wants to come.”
“Doesn’t she have a grandmother nearby?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. And she’s very nice. But she doesn’t have a magic closet.”
Dori is a college student now. The wicker box is still in the bottom of the closet, waiting for her to come visit and crawl to the gifts still waiting for her.
When Mia and her brother Sal were ready for “surprises” I consigned a drawer in the guest room dresser for their gifts. For both there were boxes of jelly beans and chocolate kisses. For Sal – toy trucks and plastic figures with moveable arms and legs. Puzzle books with search for words, color by number, and follow the maze to the pot of gold. Mia got a queen’s crown and a bejeweled scepter, oversized heart shaped sunglasses, sticker books, Cinderella cut-outs, as well as the usual party beads and jigsaw puzzles.
No high-tech games, no cell phones, no sweatshirts from Abercrombie. Just a bunch of inexpensive stuff to amuse them for a bit, to make them feel special, and to create a memory of a fun ritual they shared with their grandmother.
Getting back to Mia and the pink cup. Just a few weeks ago, the family gathered for Mia’s thirteenth birthday.
Hard to believe she is so grown up, a tiny bit of mascara highlighting her dark eyes, several small, dainty earrings circling the outside rims of her ears, an off the shoulder oversized sweat shirt, long sweater and black tights.
“Do you recognize this sweater?” she asked me.
“It does look familiar,” I said. “Wait a minute, that was mine, my purple sweater. Didn’t I give that to your mother?”
“Watch out Mom,” interjected Mia’s mom. “She’s into shopping in my closet now. Yours will be next.”
Defending her right to the sweater, Mia laughed, “But it’s purple Grandma, and that’s my favorite color. I am going to get married in a purple gown.”
“Sounds good to me.”
We sat around Mia as she opened her gifts. Several gift cards to use in her favorite stores. A table top sewing machine, a miniature nail salon, a pair of earrings.
And then a final gift from me and a caution “Open carefully; it’s delicate.”
Mia screamed, the high, piercing, ear-splitting sound emitted by teen girls when a favorite music idol takes the stage.
“My cup. My pink cup! You gave me my cup.”
“Yes, and you didn’t have to wait until you got married.”