My grandmother, Minnie Mae, died in 2002 at the age of 101. She lived a life that was rich in relationships and poor in material wealth. Minnie Mae was of Ostfriesland, German stock. Her mother, Gretchen, immigrated to Iowa when she was a teen-ager where she initially served as a maid. My grandmother told stories of Gretchen having to sleep while standing up in the kitchen of the “English” who employed her. Gretchen married Claus, another person of Ostfriesland ancestry, and my grandmother was the oldest of their ten children. Minnie Mae’s father took her out of school before she finished 8th grade in order to put her to work help in a farm household. She always regretted that she could not finish 8th grade and that she didn’t learn how to use a computer or play a bass clarinet. Gretchen died young, leaving many younger siblings to my grandmother’s care. Later my grandmother was widowed during the height of the depression with two young daughters after my grandfather died in a car accident. She remarried, had two more daughters, worked cleaning houses, and taught me to can vegetables and bake bread.
At some point along the way, I ended with a set of china that once belonged to my grandmother. My mother thinks she must have brought it to me when I lived in Iowa, on her way home from Minnesota where she had helped move my grandmother from her subsidized apartment to a nursing home. I have it in my mind that this set was bought for my grandmother by my Aunt Ruth, since my grandmother had virtually nothing in terms of luxury items. I somehow associate it with my aunt’s visit to Ostfriesland and German china, but the back of the dishes say they are Japanese…
These dishes have recently been on the road. I took them with me when I moved to Michigan from Iowa many years ago and then to Massachusetts more recently. As I moved into my smaller house in Massachusetts I had a conversation with my daughters—would either of them want the china? Having gotten no interest, I began to search for a family home for them. Since they were purchased by my Aunt Ruth for my grandmother, I went to a cousin who had several daughters. Yes, they were interested.
Now—how do I get them back to Minnesota? I packed them up and waited for the opportunity for a road trip for the dishes. This came a year later when I had to drive to Michigan. The china came with me. Then they sat for 6 months in Michigan waiting for someone from Minnesota to come visit family in Michigan. In the meantime my cousin moved to South Dakota and her daughters to Pennsylvania and Paris. Finally another aunt came to Michigan and I proposed she take the box back to Minnesota. By this time, my cousin had forgotten about our conversations, so my aunt had to send a photo of the dishes to my cousin who sent it to each of her daughters. The one in Paris wanted them. Off to Minnesota the dishes went. Now they sit in Minnesota waiting for my cousin to come through to get them and take them to South Dakota where they will sit until her daughter comes back from Paris and moves to who knows where?
We used to do what we called “grandma exchanges” where we would drive and meet half way and pass my grandmother off from one person to another. Now we just move her china across the country. My grandmother would have been very interested in who ended up with the dishes. But mostly this interest would have been focused on how we used technology to communicate, who visited whom, and how the dishes kept everyone in relationship with one another. The china itself would have been a side dish.