As I sit in my art studio surveying the drawers full of the tiny objects I use for my assemblages, I often think of my Grandma Jane. Midwife, mother, knitter, crocheter, tatter, embroiderer, Chinese Checkers player, master at whipping up meals making use of whatever was at hand, in her old age she became a hoarder and was given to confusing liniment with vanilla when baking cakes. Consummate martyr, she was fond of muttering something in Dutch that to those of us other than my dad, who spoke Dutch, sounded exactly like “Mama milk my goat.” It came to be a family retort anytime one of us seemed to be feeling sorry for herself, and it was not until I returned from college, amazed that none of my friends had ever heard the phrase before, that my dad laughingly admitted that what she was actually saying was the equivalent of “Mama might be dead!” in Dutch. It was his little joke on us that he had never corrected our misquoting of the phrase.
Toward the end of her life, my grandma was not an especially pleasant person to be around and although we took her meals to her, had her over for Sunday dinner and holidays and took her shopping and for rides, we spent less and less time with her. At my 50th class reunion, a woman who had been in my class at school who had grown up in a house near my grandma, who came from a family of 13 children, told of how they’d all go over to grandma’s house to watch TV at night, and it was comforting to know she had not been as lonely as she always professed to be. As a little girl, I, too, had loved to visit her as she struggled to make me into the knitter or stitcher I’d never be, but as I grew into my teen years and as she became less of a pleasant companion, we spent less and less time together. She died at the age of 96 when I was 16.
She always wore a navy dress of heavy crepe with dozens of small black buttons down the front. Her jewelry, turned dull black by some body chemistry that I share, lay abandoned in her dresser drawer, the food stains spilling down her front, her new adornment.
Trunks in her house were filled with ill-stitched pillowcases, her handiwork rendered less carefully year-by-year as her eyesight failed— her useless glasses repaired at the bridge with thick amber glue she bought by the box to sell but never did.
Every Christmas, her gift to me was one more from her cache of dozens of small plastic lamps powered by batteries— another failed scheme received in the mail that had promised to swell her fortune.
Her china cabinet was crowded to each edge with 96 years of carnival glass, milk glass and heavy Dutch beer mugs, green dishes from soap boxes and cut glass jelly goblets— treasures doled out to us one per visit towards the end, as though she sensed the inescapable. The day of the fire, she didn’t want to leave her things: canning jars full of Cracker Jack prizes and other treasures mined from her pockets after a neighborhood stroll. They carried her, kicking and screaming, from her house and put her in our car. “All right, old girl,” my dad said, and drove her 50 miles to the nearest residence for the elderly.
I remember all of this after a Christmas gathering with friends as I clean food spills
from my Mexican-embroidered blouse: how they bulldozed her house with most of her treasures inside and built a hospital on the land; how it, too, now lies abandoned in the dying town, its cobwebbed rooms giving no testament to that which lies below: trunks filled with yellowing embroidered sheets and pillowcases, shelf upon shelf of Mason jars filled with the collection of her lifetime: buried riches whose containers have acquired a worth far beyond the trinkets they contain.
For RDP#1 Prompt.