A week ago I wrote about the way a friend is grieving the loss of her mother. I am deeply moved by the love she pours out every day for her Ma, and I was honoured that she allowed me to share her very personal journey. The responses to that post showed me how many of us have experienced that same sense of loss, and how valuable it is to celebrate the life of the loved one we are missing…
This picture is of my grandmother, who died (at the age of 95) ten years ago. I still miss her every day.
Bami kept this frame next to her bed – the inset photo is one she cut out of a school photo from her own childhood. It reminded her of the little girl she had been and the place she had come from… Her keepsake has become mine.
Thinking about the keepsakes we carry made me strongly aware of the little things full of memories that I have saved – transferred from home to home through my nomadic years:
Bami’s sherry glasses – used for Bristol Cream on special occasions…
…and her Royal Albert china (“Blossomtime”) which reminds me of the springtime view from her old apartment on McBride Boulevard. We never use the set (pink dishes aren’t always in season) but I can’t bear to part with it. The blossom trees are still there along the boulevard, but the view has been filled up with overpasses and billboards. I keep the china cups and plates in the same cabinet that Bami used – a tiny permanent spring.
My favourite dishes in the world: T.G.Green and Co.’s Cornish Blue kitchen ware (with the occasional piece of Irish Carragaline mixed in) which decorated Bami’s kitchen my whole life. I loved to look at them as a child, and loved even more when Bami would use them to serve up flapjacks or grilled cheese from the heavy cast iron pans in her tiny green kitchen… This blue remains my favourite colour – the fact that it is used widely in the school where I work makes me happy everyday.
The dishes were originally passed down to my cousin Kim who thoughtfully gave them to me when she heard how much I loved them. Every time I find a random piece to buy at rummage sales or flea markets my heart leaps just a little…
Bami’s love of kitchen is one of my great inheritances. The smells and noises of a working kitchen comfort me endlessly – I have worked in many (coffee shops, caterers, restaurants, b&b’s…) and love the joy that comes from feeding others. In tiny apartment kitchens I have cooked turkeys and tenderloins to feed family and friends – if Bami cooked for us in her closet sized kitchen I could do the same! I have also inherited her brand loyalties for ingredients, particularly when it comes to baking. If it was Bami’s favourite it is my favourite too.
Bami’s greatest talent was with a needle and thread. Sewing during the day (and knitting at night) she made beautiful clothes for herself, her children, her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She made quilts, coats (with bemberg lining), dresses, pants and seemingly endless sweaters… I have some of her creations in my closet to this day and wear them often, but the most sentimental keepsakes are the fat quarters for quilting (which I don’t do but can’t let go), the wooden spools of thread, and the torn old yellow envelope containing custom made sweater labels…
I also love the pewter shoe shaped pin cushion she passed on to me – one of a huge decorative shoe collection that she gave to my cousin Mark – which represents another hobby we have in common…
Bami loved shoes and clothes, which is part of what drove her passion for sewing. Having little money meant no means to acquire a fashionable wardrobe, but her thrifty ingenuity served her fashion sense well. She only used the best materials and made classic things to last. Her greatest luxuries were perfume (Pavlova) and jewelry – pearls, pearls, pearls were her trademark accessory. (Naturally, she was born in June.) Even into her 90s she read and discussed the fashion news – creative construction, quality materials and modern classics always received her approval.
Some of her jewelry was passed on to my mother who has in turn passed it on to me. Bami would have loved to see the way her classic pieces are still gorgeous today in a completely new way.
These brooches are resting on one of Bami’s handkerchiefs – another essential accessory (besides the white gloves) that her handbag was never without. My cousin Shannon found the stash when we were cleaning out Bami’s apartment and gave one to each grand daughter at her memorial service.
Bami was never religious, but she was always spiritual. Years before she died she gave me one of the most amazing and fragile keepsakes I could imagine… Her own mothers bible.
The fact that Bami was one of 11 children makes it quite amazing that it came into our branch of the family at all… The date 1930, when Bami was 20) makes me wonder if my great-gran gave it to her daughter as a keepsake in turn when she married and moved three provinces west in 1933…
The bible is filled with clippings from newspapers, newsletters, magazines and cookbooks. I don’t know who clipped them, but I have left them all in their original places… Some of them are funny and some of them are sad, but my favourite is this prayer of gratitude which resonates with me as much today as ever…
I miss my grandmother every day. I remember clearly the soapy smell of her apartment, the powdery softness of her cheek, the texture of the silk pillow she always slept with (so as to preserve her weekly hairdo…)
The endless snippets of memories are not nearly enough to fill the space in my life that she left, little by little, as the Alzheimer’s took her away. The keepsakes and photos can not contain the spirit of the woman who changed her own life in a time when women just didn’t… But it’s not just about keepsakes, and it’s not just about memories. Last night in church the choir sang out her favourite hymn – Amazing Grace- and hearing it filled my heart with joy.
“Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.”
The space left in me when Bami died may never disappear but it can be filled to the brim with love, and that helps. Every keepsake carries the same message: find what brings love and joy into your life. Hold on to the love in every moment. Be grateful for it, and share it.