Last year we moved mom to a board and care facility on account of her increasing dementia, and it was while we were emptying out her apartment that I photographed everything in it for my Family Heirloom Project. Among the items was this one: a little ceramic bowl.
I attended kindergarten at Del Mar Elementary School and had Mrs. Kasner. She was an older lady with fiery red hair. I liked her just fine, although she occasionally sent me to the “thinking chair” or, if we were out on the playground, the “thinking step” to think about something I had done. All that thinking; maybe that’s where I picked up the habit that eventually resulted in grad school in philosophy. My cousin Tommy claimed that she once told him he’d never learn to read and that he never got over it.
In any case, we did a lot of art projects in her class. For example, there was lots of finger painting. I still remember the first day when we were told to bring an old shirt of our father’s to wear while painting. We wore them backwards. I still managed to get paint all over myself. One day, we did a ceramics project. I made a small, simple bowl. I remember shaping it with my fingers, over and over again, trying to get it right. I never really succeeded, but eventually got something to hand over to Mrs. Kasner.
So, I made this little bowl, and painted it blue and black. On the bottom was inscribed “Nickie AM”, because I was in the a.m. class. I brought it home and gave it to my mom as a gift. She did a lot of sewing and needed pins to be handy. She was always pinning things up for alterations, or pinning patterns to fabric, and so on. So she kept pins in it. For 40 years or more that thing sat on her sewing machine with pins in it. After we moved my mom, it came to our house and sat on a bookshelf in the office. Without the pins, of course.
Just a few months later I was cleaning up around the side of the house where the trash and recycling bins sit. I saw a little patch of blue on the ground and a wad of neurons jangled in my head. It was so familiar. I picked up a little chard, then another and another. My heart sank.
What one kindergartener made, another demolished. (I know, it’s a metaphor for a natural process all children and their parents go through.) I don’t know exactly what happened, and never will, I’m sure. Somehow Theo got ahold of the bowl and it became a play thing, until it broke. I have to admit that at first I was pretty mad. But when i looked into that sad, confused little boy’s face, I knew I had to just let it go. I might have gone a long time, maybe forever, never thinking about that little bowl. I don’t know what I would have done with it anyway, other than allow it to be another piece of baggage to carry around the rest of my life and eventually leave to someone with no personal connection or emotional attachment, and hence free to take it to the Goodwill with all the other old crap. So, that came sooner in this case. I didn’t have to carry it around another 40 years. Still, I can’t help feeling a little loss, not of material wealth, but of a piece of the story—a little hole, just like the growing gaps in mom’s memory.