November 20, 2011
Good afternoon, friends,
I visited my old prairie home this last week. Today’s story (with minor editorial revision) comes from that vanishing world. However, as you will see, it is closely related to the idea of human possibility and the pear tree in the last blog I wrote.
It was a small crockery jar, its edge chipped and its lid lost. A spray of blue flowers and the word cinnamon traced a gentle wandering design over the cracked gray glaze.
The jar’s earliest history can only be guessed. No one now living knows its origin or saw the jar as it must have once sat on a kitchen shelf breathing the fragrance of cinnamon into the scent of her baking bread.
She died young.
After her death, only men came to prepare food in her prairie kitchen. Life and the world around them were harsh and demanding; necessity focused their attention fiercely on survival. Objects that did not contribute directly to survival were laid aside, disregarded and eventually discarded or lost.
Time and people moved on. Then no one at all came to the house. The kitchen was occupied only by a broken chair that had been left behind.
Wind and weather in that world are not kind. Soon holes in the roof let in the rain and snow; windows became empty, shattered glass scattered over warped floor boards. Those few doors that remained hung by broken hinges, swinging helpless in the wind.
New land owners came. Recognizing the inevitable process of decay, they dismantled the old house. The kitchen became anonymous scraps of broken boards, laths and plaster. In time, together with other remnants of the old house they weathered into a gentle mound covered with weeds and grass.
One day her granddaughter, now a mother herself, was walking through the grassland where the family’s old homestead had once stood, and spied a glimpse of blue. Pulling grass and pushing earth aside, she discovered the old cinnamon jar buried at the eroding edge of the mound. She retrieved the jar, carried it home, washed it, and set it on her kitchen shelf.
Then on a hard later day, now a grandmother herself, she in turn faced the necessity of dismantling her kitchen.
When I saw her, she was standing by her kitchen cabinet, silent, holding the jar in her hand.
Carrying a box, her grandson came into the room, and asked with a cheerful grin, “Is that old jar worth saving, Grams? What do you want to do with that?”
It was one of those questions that require a story to answer, or no answer at all.
She turned to me and said, “You’ll keep this, won’t you? Let’s send this home with you to be in your kitchen for a while. Then later you’ll send it on.”
The edge is chipped and the top is gone, but I can still read the word cinnamon surrounded by a wreath of blue flowers on the old gray glaze.
What is an accurate value to assign that cinnamon jar on my house insurance policy?
Most importantly—how do I send on that jar and its story so that the human possibility it images will not be lost?
See you next week.