I had coveted the cream pitcher for years. I loved its fat round shape, its graceful, chipped spout, its gorgeous blue color, its smooth matte finish.
My mother used it for filling her steam iron with water. It sat out on the ironing board for weeks on end; it didn’t match anything they owned. It just seemed old and odd. But I loved it. It caught my eye every time I came home for a visit.
I came home again one July, along with my sister Kristin. She had had breast cancer for about three years by then, and this was her big sentimental trip back to Duluth. She wanted to see everything — walk the old neighborhood, go past the high school, and the old skating rink and the junior high and that funny little neighborhood we called “Quiet Corner,” because it dead-ended at a ravine.
It was a difficult trip for many reasons. We did walk around the old neighborhood, but she was in a lot of pain — the cancer was in her spine, and often she had to abruptly stop walking, her face frozen in pain, until a spasm passed. She was on some pretty powerful medication, which couldn't help but affect her behavior; she was a little on edge, and a little nervous, and a little paranoid.
She and my parents had had a difficult, complicated relationship, and it wasn’t easy being with all three of them together. At times, I felt uncomfortably like a go-between.
One evening we were sitting in my parents’ living room, chatting a bit awkwardly, and somehow the subject of the cream pitcher came up.
And I boldly asked if I could have it.
My mother, who is not sentimental about anything, said, “Sure.”
She went and got it and handed it to me. I cupped its blue smoothness between my palms.
My father said, “Now wait a minute.”
I set it down.
Kristin spoke up. “Oh, that’s ridiculous! You don’t care about that! Of course Laurie can have it!” And she picked it up and thrust it at me. “Come on, Laurie, let’s go.”
She walked out the front door and headed down the avenue toward our bed and breakfast.
I didn’t know what to do, but I figured, she’s the one with cancer; she’s the one I’m responsible for. So I followed her, still holding the pitcher, which had suddenly turned into contraband.
The next morning, our phone rang, very early. It was my mother. “I’m coming over,” she said. “I need to get that cream pitcher. Your father wants it back.”
We were staying two blocks away, and I swear she was there within seconds. I handed the little pitcher back to her. I felt foolish. I realized that I had practically stolen it.
Kristin scoffed. She grew sarcastic. (I have to remind you that this was not her usual personality. She was on a lot of morphine.)
The tip of my mother’s nose was pink, as I remembered it being every time she and my father fought all those years I lived at home. She didn't say anything. She took the pitcher, put it in her purse, and went home.
It was not mentioned again.
Three months later, Doug and I got married. A package showed up in the mail a couple of days before the wedding. It was from my parents, and it held the cream pitcher.
Tucked in the box was a note.
“This pitcher is the only piece left from a set of dishes that my Aunt Barbara gave us for a wedding present,” my father had written. “I hope it brings you happiness.”
It does, I guess, in the way that any meaningful object can bring a person happiness. But it does more than that; it brings me memories. Some sentimental, some uncomfortable, some, in retrospect, humorous, and all very complicated.
And that makes it, I think, the best representation of family that I could have.
Drink With Me
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