Priceless

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i remember when people had cookie jars or candy jars in their homes. My Grandma Minnie had both and she managed to keep them filled for the times when we visited her house. My mother never had a cookie jar until my brothers and I put together the money we had made from doing odd jobs like babysitting or cutting grass. We found a small ceramic jar that was shaped like a little house. It was painted in pastel colors to resemble a sweet shop. It had a little handle crafted from woven strips of wood. We thought that it was magically delightful as only children would.

We were so proud of that gift because we had usually just made something for our mom. She seemed to like the pictures that we drew, so that was often our present of choice. One time we traced the image of a little boy onto a block of wood. Then we used a hand jigsaw to cut out the figure. One of my brothers used a magnifying glass and the rays of the sun to burn the boy’s features into the wood. We stained the whole thing and put a hook on it so that Mama would be able to hang it on the wall. She proudly displayed in the kitchen for many years until she finally stored in a drawer.

Having an actual store bought present was a big deal for us, so we chose that cookie jar very carefully. We wanted something nice that we might afford with our very limited budget. I can’t remember where we purchased it, but it most likely was from the local TG&Y. Mama treasured it for many years, but I don’t recall her ever using it to store cookies. She was afraid that the lid was not tight enough to keep the ants at bay. In all likelihood she was exactly right about that. 

Today that cookie jar sits on one of the shelves of my secretary desk. The doors are made with glass so it is visible to all who sit in the area that I call my sitting room. It is where I talk to friends on the phone, write my blogs, read and plan the math lessons for my students. The room is my refuge and I have filled it with things that make me happy. Knowing that my mother treasured the cookie jar, even if she never used it, is a wonderful feeling. It was not much, but she understood how hard we had to work to purchase it for her. 

Next to the cookie jar are two pieces of children’s china that were Mama’s when she was a child. Generally she did not have toys but she had that little plate and cup from a set that somehow survived the wear and tear of a house full of seven rough and tumble siblings. I can almost imagine her hiding the precious pieces so that they would not get broken. I have no idea what happened to the rest of the set or if there was even more at all. It simply is precious to me to have something from my mother’s childhood.

I have a small Eleanor Roosevelt doll tucked in the corner of the top shelf of the secretary. I bought it for myself because I have always been inspired by First Lady Roosevelt. I suppose I became a fan when my mother so vividly described how important both of the Roosevelts had been to her family. She literally gushed when she told us how President Roosevelt had save the nation. She proudly recalled how she stood on the corner of her street to watch Roosevelt  and his entourage pass by when he visited Houston. She shed tears when speaking of his death. She always insisted that Eleanor Roosevelt had been the greatest First Lady ever and told us stories of listening to her speak to the nation on the radio.

When I read books about Eleanor my mother’s opinions of her were confirmed. I fell in love with that remarkable woman and when I look at the doll representing her I always think of my mother. In fact, my mother’s name was Ellen, which I think is beautiful. Ironically Mama often commented that she would have preferred being known as Eleanor. At birth her parents named her Elena as would have been a more customary name in Slovakia. Any way I look at the different versions of my mother’s name, I find them to be wonderful and much more pleasing than my own. I suppose we all dream of having a different, more elegant name.

My mother used to collect salt and pepper shakers on her travels with my father. Her collection was abruptly finished upon his death. Nonetheless they had packed a lifetime of seeing the country in their eleven years of marriage. Mama’s tiny mementoes filled a small bookcase and I had to dust each one of them every single week. I remember carefully wiping down the tiny shakers that represented so many different places. What might have been a tedious task became fun as I imagined all of the wondrous cities and towns and National Parks she and Daddy had visited. 

Sadly something happened to all of those little treasures. Perhaps my mom grew tired of them and gave them away. Maybe she accidentally broke some of them. For whatever reason only two sets were still intact when she died. I was so proud of them that they ended up in my curio shelves as well. One day I accidentally broke one of the sets as I was cleaning. It shattered my heart, but I had to remind myself that they were only things. I still had the great memories of all of the original pieces, and nothing would ever take that away. I recalled the replicas of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. I thought of the tepees from a Native American reservation and the Cacti from Arizona. There had once been birds and bears, canoes and trains.

I suppose that anyone looking inside my secretary might wonder why I have such a hodgepodge of items. Nothing in there is particularly rare or of monetary value. It is the memory associated with each piece that is important. My treasures are of the heart. Gazing at them almost make moments from the past come alive. That makes them priceless for sure.  

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