My grandmother was born in 1895 in a tiny town in New Brunswick, Canada. Her childhood home had neither electricity, nor indoor plumbing. When I was a small child I used to love to visit her house in the country because it was essentially a living time capsule of the many journeys she had taken, and all the advances in technology that had occurred during her lifetime.
She was not a “hoarder” and her home was spotlessly clean and organized; but she was raised to be frugal and she saw a potential future use in everything and so she kept everything, because you just never knew when you might need a handy bit of string.
She collected antique items when they were not fashionable and there were all sorts of strange things hanging about the house – strings of jet black beads and a broach with a braid of human hair that were worn as mourning jewellery, handmade copper pots and jelly molds from France, brass bed warmers which were meant to be filled with coal, wicker blanket beaters and a well warn wooden cobbler’s bench. As a child I had no idea what these strange looking things were for and I spent many hours with her as she patiently explained and demonstrated their use.
Some demonstrations were slightly more successful than others – she had a habit of keeping all the small bits of hand soap that were left after many washes in a net bag, with the idea that they could be melted down and reformed into new larger bars of soap (something that her own mother used to do). When I pushed her into doing this in a pot on the stove, we created a grey foul smelling gooey mess so disgusting that we had to throw out the pot! But I didn’t care – it was the time together learning about the old ways that I found so fascinating.
My favorite place to rummage for strange items was a dresser in one of the guestrooms. It was filled with souvenirs that she had picked up in her travels throughout Europe: everything from packets of sugar with color photos of the Swiss mountains, to coasters and ash trays from restaurants, to linen tea towels, labels from wine bottles, to a set of oversized white porcelain chocolate cups from Claridge’s.
I took a fancy to these oversized cups and saucers, which were finally handed over to my mother when I was a teenager, because they were low and wide and capable of holding a substantial amount of tea. I enjoyed many cups of earl grey tea with lemon with my mother when I was in high school and we continued to haul them out of the cupboard when I came to visit her for many years after I left home.
Today my mother is also gone, but I still have the cups and the memories of two women who were such a big influence in my youth, and I think of them both whenever I pour myself a cup of tea. When I was younger I did not give much thought to nostalgia. But now find that these momentary flashbacks are not only welcome but are wonderfully fond memories of times past, yet still live with me today. I pray for many more of them as time rolls on.