This was my prayer...a piece of ground not over large with a garden and near to the house a stream of constant water.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The big picture…



    Here is a picture of what is now referred to as “advertising art”. It is one of those 30-plus or so coffee urns used for church suppers, AA meetings, wakes etc. Decades ago, companies would send you really cool stuff like this in exchange for saving up and sending them a specified number of proof of purchases. Well, my mom was a dedicated member of the Wakefield Culture Club. Clubs for women were a major part of life, especially in smallish towns like the one where we lived. The women raised money to do all sorts of good deeds like buying socks and underwear for mental patients at the state hospital nearby. They also had a lot of social activities—card parties, dances, luncheons, meetings with themes like “little treasures for your little treasures” where they had a guest speaker come in and show them the correct way to make an arrangement of flowers in a tea cup.

     The highlight of one year was something called a “Tom Thumb Wedding”. Members’ children were dressed up like members of a wedding (I am still envious of Sally Spotts because she got to be the bride because her mom was president that year). I did not even make “Mother of the Bride” or groom. I had to wear one of my grandmother’s old Easter hats destined for the rummage sale box for that year and was just a “guest”. But there was real wedding cake so it was not a total bummer.

     Because the ladies did so much eating and food-related stuff—covered dish suppers, strawberry and various other dessert specials, teas with dainty sandwiches—there was a completely outfitted kitchen adjoining their club rooms situated on the second floor of the Carnegie Free Library. And the one thing I most admired (given my aforementioned infatuation with “advertising art”) was the coffee urn that looked like a giant can of Maxwell House coffee. Well, darn it if when the ladies club went out existence and their stuff was divvied up, my mom got my beloved urn! She never used it, keeping it wrapped up and stored far back in some closet. I could only dream…

    Then one day, out of the blue, when I was married and began to entertain I asked her for the urn and she gave it to me. Now in my family this was an earthshaking event. There were many odd, psychologically unsettling dynamics in our family and one was that my mother would deliberately withhold from me anything that I expressed even a mild interest in. But she handed me her urn and I just loved it. Walking through my pantry and seeing its bright, shiny oversized label would make me smile and feel happy.

     And then in 1995 my life became a perfect storm. I lost my wonderful job because my employers were trying to get rid of my husband and not having the guts to just can him, my firing was the shot across the bow designed to get him to resign, which he did not do, breaking my heart. Then I became seriously, mysteriously sick and was bedridden. The marriage was in shambles and I was much-too-early menopausal. And my husband came home on a Friday night two days before my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary and said he took care of sick people all day and did not want to come home and do it.

     Of course my mom and dad were the first call I made. Sobbing hysterically, I told them of my devastation.  And the first thing my mother said in a very alarmed voice was “Where is the coffee pot”? Now my head was spinning and I was dazed from what I had just said and my mind could not process what was this thing about the coffee pot. I felt like I was on that old ride at Kennywood where you spin around and the floor slowly drops out from beneath you… And she kept asking me over and over about “her” Maxwell House coffee urn. Every time she talked to me, that damned urn… So I managed to remember to put it in my car and as soon as I pulled up in their driveway, she came out and asked me for it.

     Fast forward a few years… For one of the holidays, I suggested to my mother that she make coffee in her urn to accommodate the company coming. She turned, stared directly at me and said “What urn”? She had given it to Lisa the cleaning lady she told me just like that…

     So what is the point of this story? Well, it is for you to make of it what you will, dear readers. But to end on a happy note, a few years ago I was wandering through the now-gone and much lamented “Ye Olde Curiousity Shoppe” fleatique” here in Ligonier. And there in a dark back room was “my” Maxwell House coffee urn, all shiny and undented just like new. I grabbed it up like I was reaching for a life jacket on the Titanic. It was marked $10 and I did not haggle the price, a treasure to me at any cost. It now sits in a prominent place on top of my refrigerator, gathering dust. (I am five feet tall and one of my basic tenets of housekeeping is I do not dust anything too high that I cannot peer directly at). But it was some small healing for me to find that pot. Has that ever happened to you? I hope so…


  1. ... as a skilled golfer, I know that the putter is the only club whose design and performance don't matter, as you use it purely to roll the ball along the ground. You could use an L-shaped stick or Grandpa's cane for the same purpose. The putter in my bag since 1983 is a Wilson Augusta Brass, which my mother somehow gave away when Dad died. Magically, it found its way back to me, as Dad intended. I was with him in 1956 the Saturday he bought it from Smiley McGee at the Wilson wholesale store on Fifth Avenue where "they" were building The Civic Arena. It's my magic wand.

  2. I think this story is a good base for a movie about mothers and daughters. It's a odd relationship we all have. One filled with love and inexplicable disappointments.