It started with a KitchenAid mixer.
For years, I’ve wanted a KitchenAid stand mixer. I can perfectly picture my mother’s KitchenAid, an odd beige-ivory color with brown detail. Objectively, not the most attractive color combo they’ve used, but appropriate for the time it was made. My mother received it from her mother (my grandmother) as a replacement for her mother’s (my great-grandmother’s) old mixer, which was on its last legs.
I have fond memories of that KitchenAid mixer, whether the excitement of getting to turn it on when batter was in the bowl or just licking the beaters after, and using it under the guidance of my mother and grandmother. Since it generally wasn’t used for day-to-day cooking, it was a symbol of special occasions and, more specifically, holiday gatherings with extended family. It’s possible that my desire for a KitchenAid was based more strongly in emotion than function. I mean, I’ve made it this far without.
But then came Christmas and, with it, my KitchenAid stand mixer. It’s pistachio-colored and it’s perfect. I love just looking at it, which is good since it doesn’t yet have a home in my kitchen and is currently sitting in the middle of everything. Fitting it in is going to require serious rearranging, and some things are going to have to go. When considering what items should find new life in someone else’s home, I’m reminded of the fact that I own three sets of dishes.
We have our everyday dishes. They’re very simple, all white, from Crate & Barrel and I love them. We have our fine wedding china, which is white with minimal silver detail. We also have dishes that belonged to my maternal grandmother. They’re thick earthenware and a cream color which, it occurs to me only as I write this, is strikingly similar to the shade of my mother’s mixer. Some of the plates have a slim band of green bordering the frame, and all of them have a selection of bright orange, purple, pink and gold flowers and green leaves in the center (they were made in the 70s). I vividly remember eating cereal and oatmeal in the bowls as a kid, and having lunchtime sandwiches on the smaller plates.
My grandmother gave the plates and bowls to my older sister when she was in college and moving into her first apartment, in New York. They were passed along to me when I moved into my first apartment, in Chicago. I was thrilled to get them. Not only did I suddenly have a (nearly) complete dish set for free, but they were tied to childhood memories at my grandmother’s house. When she found out I’d inherited them, and that they were my primary (sole) tableware, my grandmother insisted on purchasing me an entirely new set of dishes. She couldn’t believe I was still using those “ugly old things.” While I accepted the new dishes, I also hung onto the old ones.
The dishes moved through three apartments in Chicago, then down to Florida. During my first year in Florida, my grandmother agreed that her eyesight was sufficiently poor that she should move out of her home and into a senior living complex. As a family, we helped her determine what things would be kept, what would be donated and what would be taken by family members. Additional pieces of the floral dish family appeared. A gravy boat, a sugar and creamer set and a serving bowl. I joyfully accepted the remaining pieces and they were shipped from Illinois to Florida. The entire set came with me into my first home. When Tall Guy and I moved in together, into yet another home, the dishes came with. Merging our kitchens meant a lot of duplicates. I happily gave away the “new” dishes that my grandmother had given me, but held on to the floral set.
Through all of this, the dishes have taken some hits. Despite careful packing, moving and shipping resulted in chips both small and significant. There were several pieces sitting on a shelf that simply crashed to the floor one day. Over the years, I’ve superglued items I could and cried over the pieces that wouldn’t quite go back together. As liquids seeped into the cracks of repaired pieces, the crack lines became darker. Along with shattered specialty pieces, a small bowl and medium-sized plate are also missing.
We rarely use the floral dishes, now. It makes sense to part with them. The hang-up is the emotional factor. Every time I see them, I think of my grandmother. She passed away in August. And while I know there’s no right or wrong way to mourn, or celebrate, someone you have loved and lost, I’m not sure I’m doing it well. Suddenly, making a decision about these dishes feels like choosing whether or not to honor her memory.
If I let the dishes go, am I letting go of my grandmother?
Actually, that might just explain the reason this decision is so emotionally charged. In defiance to reality, some small part of me simply didn’t believe she had left us. And then Christmas came.
Christmastime, to me, is about family. For reasons of logistics, finances, coordination, procrastination… whatever the many factors were, my husband and I chose to stay in Florida this Christmas. Just the two of us. It was relaxing and lovely. In retrospect, I suspect that part of the pull was to avoid a Christmas where my grandma was so obviously absent. This idea started forming when we were gifted, for the first time, some homemade candy from a neighbor. Toffee and peppermint. The peppermint tasted exactly like the kind my grandmother used to make.
She was a fabulous baker (and cook) at any time of the year, but her talents were never more evident (and prevalent) than at Christmas. When we arrived at her house there would be saran-covered plates and tupperware filled with at least four different kinds of cookies. There were small dishes throughout the house that were regularly refreshed with a mix of her homemade toffee, peanut brittle, chocolate, coconut bites, caramel, peppermint…
The peppermint candy was always my favorite and my grandmother knew it. On the years when we spent Christmas with my father’s side of the family, she would send me a tin of JUST the peppermint candies. Once she’d moved to the apartment, and no longer had a full kitchen, she was unable to bake her holiday treats. However, because she didn’t want me to go without, she would have Harry & David peppermint bark sent to me in its place. The bark was good, but could never compare with her recipe. And somehow, this first Christmas without my grandmother, a peppermint candy that tasted just like hers made its way to me.
I’ve spent a lot of time, lately, thinking about my grandmother. She was a strong, loving, funny woman. She was brave, witty and beautiful. She made sure that the people around her knew they were loved, and deeply.
I do not need a set of dishes to remind me of my grandmother or how wonderful a person she was. And with my new KitchenAid mixer, which will also make me think of her, I will be able to make so many more of my grandmother’s delicious recipes. Like Christmas peppermint candy.