15 August 2013

#fridayflash: family heritage

"Mum, you sit down. Jimmy and I can do the dishes."

"I'm fine. You go sit down. Talk to your father."

Roger knew that as soon as the water started running in the kitchen, their father would tell them they should help their mother, that real men didn't expect their mother to pick up after them. Roger would protest, and Jimmy would point out that when the parents came to visit one of the sons, their mother insisted on doing the dishes then too. The argument itself was a tradition, like watching the Stanley Cup game together when the truth was none of them really followed hockey.

Anne checked the water temperature with her hand, then very gently lowered the first stack of dishes into the sink. She pulled the knitted dishcloth off the faucet and lifted the first plate from the water.

A white plate with pink roses, it was the only survivor of the set Great-Grandmother Bridget had brought with her to Canada in 1920. Anne rinsed it off and set it gently in the dish rack.

Bridget had always hated that dish set, a wedding gift bought by relatives without asking her preferences. It came to symbolise all the choices taken away from her. Her in-laws had that ugly, tiny house waiting when she arrived. Her dreams of going to university were destroyed when she discovered she was pregnant with Anne's grandmother. She took great pleasure in pitching as many of those dishes at her husband's head as she could find excuses to throw them.

Green Roman key pattern around the edge of a salad bowl Anne's grandmother, Vera, had received as a twentieth anniversary gift. Anne set it on its own tea towel after washing it, since its shape didn't allow it to sit well in the dish rack.

Vera had loved flowers and blue-and-white china patterns. The salad bowl was a gift from a thoughtless friend she had a falling-out with a year later. Her husband remained friends with the woman's husband, so she could never throw out the gift, never stop inviting her over for bridge on Saturday evenings. She gave the bowl to Anne as a starting-a-home present.

Handpainted sunflower motif on a serving plate Anne's mother Marilyn had made sometime in the 1960s. The centre of the sunflower was textured to imitate the heavy rounds of seeds in a real plant, and Anne gave that part a good scrub to make sure all the pâté bits were removed from the dimples. She set it in the rack in front of Bridget's roses plate.

Marilyn only took the one ceramics class, a lark to do with her friends that didn't work out when she discovered they all enjoyed it much more than she did. She stuck with it to the end for the social aspects, but the serving plate was the only useful thing she ever made.

The rest of the dishes were in a pink-and-red rose pattern Anne had picked for her own bridal registry. She'd tried to match Bridget's surviving plate as much as possible, over the objections of her husband, who had wanted something with blue or gold in it. It hadn't been a fight exactly, because he'd dropped the issue immediately.

He'd said that if she did the cooking, he should do the washing up. It was only fair, he said. But she didn't trust him after they disagreed on the china pattern. Grandma Vera always said her father was the reason only one of Bridget's plates survived, and Anne had never understood what that meant until John said he wanted to do the washing up. Of course John was careful, but still. But still.

"Mum, we've been sitting around the TV for half an hour. Are you sure you don't want a hand?"

"Just finishing up, Jimmy." She set the last side plate in the rack and rinsed out the sink. "I know they're just things, but so much history gets wrapped up in things. It's heritage, know what I mean?"

How can I when you won't let Rodge or I do anything but eat off them, thought Jim, but he nodded and smiled and handed his mother a fresh tea towel. 

11 comments:

  1. Aw, this was just lovely. Amazing how something as seemingly trivial as a plate holds so much history.

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  2. I loved this. The family history, through the generations, told through mismatched dishes.

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  3. Not sure how I feel about the italicized narration this time. It's often more personal than the unitalicized narration, but seemed of the same stripe, such that I couldn't figure out how the voice was supposed to change. That the final one switches to first person was a big turn. It's an interesting experiment, and maybe I'm the exhausted outlier whose opinion isn't helpful.

    But regardless, the heart of the story is good. Thank you for sharing, Katherine.

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    1. It's all in third person, and I wanted to show that Anne is getting sentimental about aspects of family history her foremothers were probably much less sentimental about. Her ignorance of what the dishes meant to the original owners gives her different associations.

      But hey, if it doesn't work it doesn't work. Thanks for the feedback.

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  4. I liked it, but got a little tired of reading all the italics (hard on the eyes). I'm not sure how you would otherwise set things off to make the changes in POV clear. The only way I can think of offhand is with line breaks and # or ~ symbols... I'm not sure how that would look since things change so quickly. Maybe in print or a different font it would be easier to read the italics.

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    1. I agree about the font -- originally I was thinking of different colours, but I wasn't sure that would show up in all the different readers people use. If it rendered as plain text, that would be even worse :-).

      I agree print would probably be better, which in itself opens up all sorts of considerations.

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  5. Katherine, I enjoyed this story very much, knowing how much 'baggage' even a single knife may carry. The typography should not be a problem. Perhaps instead you could consider tightening the writing a little in order to make things clear?

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    1. Glad you liked it! And thank you for the idea about the edits -- I've already done a few tweaks since it was posted, and no doubt it could use some more.

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  6. I like how you mix in family history with those other trivial traditions all families have, like watching hockey playoffs even though they're not fans.

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  7. I liked this too. The family history and rituals were depressing and lovely all at once.

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