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Save a Teacup

Moving often growing up, my grandparents’ house in Ohio was one of the few stable locations in my life. Over the years, their house became almost like a museum to our family, filled with photographs, mementos, postcards from trips, and homemade treasures made by my sisters and me. They moved into that house in 1954–my mom was 3!--and until my grandma (“Ma-Ma”) passed away two months ago at 91, few things had changed in that house since I was a child.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to someone who has been such an important person in your life. My grandma cooked for me (her cornbread was the BEST), came to my college graduation, and made Christmas so memorable every year, including having Santa show up at their house when I was in 8th grade (my sisters were little and in shock!). Opening her cabinets was going to be an emotional journey for me, as I remembered mixing cornbread and biscuits with her in that cozy kitchen.

I have made two trips to Ohio so far to help my mom empty the house filled with so many precious memories. The first trip was for the funeral and to begin going through the house to prepare it to be put on the market. My sister and I quickly found a lot of things to toss: old newspapers, recipes cut out from magazines, stained clothing, etc, but I knew as a professional organizer, we needed to take time to process our emotions and not be in a rush to empty the space.

Before my second visit, I spent some time mentally preparing myself for what I called the “Mount Everest” in the house–my Ma-Ma’s kitchen. Although easier than I expected, it was still an emotional journey for me as I pulled out mixing bowls, tea cups, and her original plates that have been around probably longer than me! My mom stood nearby as I sat on the floor and lovingly pulled out each dish. We found many things to donate or toss, but we also found a beautiful glass dish shaped like a butterfly that made my mom gasp when she saw it. I had no memory of it, but my mom remembered the candies and treats put out in that dish at Christmas time when she was a child. Sharing those memories and moments with my mom was truly a special thing. Although I have done that with clients in the past, having that experience with her was so memorable to me.

After getting through the kitchen and carefully packing up her Pyrex bowls for me to keep, we approached her hutch, filled with dishes and china. The china set became a big challenge, as it was the one thing that my Ma-Ma had specifically said was for me. The problem was that I have my own china from my wedding that is barely used, and I had zero memories of my grandma using hers. I hemmed and hawed, I felt guilty, and I did some research to decide if it was worth selling or consigning it. I really struggled with the decision. I returned home to Boston and continued stewing over it. I did not want all those dishes cluttering up our house. My husband explained to me that accepting those items would be out of “guilt” and that’s not going to honor my grandma, and he was correct. After much deliberation, I decided to keep a single teacup and saucer from the set. I had a few other teacups from the house and what’s one more to use when my knitting group comes over for tea and a chat? Although I still felt sad, I had made a decision that worked for me while still remembering how important the dishes were to my grandma. Those were the “special” items to her that were rarely (if ever) used and to her, those were the items that were deemed the most valuable in her eyes. For me, the most important items were the mixing bowls, the beautiful glass pitcher that was ALWAYS in her fridge, filled with iced tea or lemonade, and the school newspaper with her senior spotlight from 1950. I am proud of myself for making the best decision for myself, and although I am still a bit devastated that the house is for sale, I can look at the teacup and remember that my Ma-Ma wanted me to have her most cherished items.

Lesson learned: It’s always okay to save a teacup.

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