Letters to the grandkids

Faded glories–Great Grandma’s cake plate

Great Granny's Cake Plate

A letter to the grandkids

Darlings, you see the brilliance of the peaches on this plate, the depth of hue and shade in the leaves and stem, the pink and yellow glow of the just-ripening orb in the upper quadrant?

Faded now, those hand-painted pigments. Yet here and there they sizzle, so vibrant are they, that you can almost see the orchard, smell the rotting fruit on the ground, feel the flies buzzing round your feet, pull the ripe peach from its stem, rub away the fuzz, taste the sweet juicy flesh, the slightly bitter skin.

Once upon a time, when your Great Granny, my mama, was a strapping, strong teenager, the rim of this plate shone with thick gold. There, you can see the remains of that gold, lost down the drain over many washings by garden-toughened hands. Then, there were no chips in the edges. Granny, proud of this one piece of good china, brought it out for every birthday, every occasion that warranted a homemade cake, fancy or plain.


You might wander where she got such a dish, her beginnings being ever so much more humble. Well, it was just from that humble life.

As a teenager, not allowed to go to school for fear it might corrupt her morals, Granny earned a little pin money cleaning house for a wealthy old neighbor woman. Mrs. _____, I no longer remember her name, in gratitude one day gave your great granny this plate, as a thank you for her good work and care of all the fine lady’s fine things.

Perhaps you’re wondering about the other pieces in this image as well. The small rose tea pot belonged to my grandmother, your great-great grandmother. The hob nail raspberry glass candy dish is one of a pair given to Great Granny and her groom, your great grandfather, on their wedding day, all those many years ago. I don’t know where its mate is.

Perhaps Granny gave it to another of her children who coveted the pair as I did. I’d rather not have had it, than to break the set, but perhaps the mate shattered in some mishap or other. What I do know, is that the pair remained intact nearly sixty years, through many moves across states and country, before this one came to me.

One day, these faded treasures will be yours, to cherish as I do, for the memories of hands that used them, voices laughing in melodic alto tones. We tend toward alto voices, the women of our family, mellow and rich. Or perhaps you’ll choose to discard these dishes as spoiled, worthless pieces, no longer holding value, sentimental or otherwise.

Sentimentality gets a bad rap, I can tell you. But like everything else, it has its place. Whatever treasures you keep to remind you of the faces, long gone, you once loved to see smiling into yours, keep them for as long as the sight and touch of them gives you pleasure.

When they no longer hold brilliance for you, let them go. But before you do, check with your cousins and your children, if you have any by then. Sometimes a worthless piece of junk in one hand is a vibrant treasure in another.

Love always,
Your YayYay


This entry was posted in: Letters to the grandkids


Goodness knows I fail to live up to my ideals far too often, but I strive each day to feed the body well, nourish the soul, heal the Earth, build community, make peace and, where possible, wreak a little joy.


  1. So beautifully said! It is the story that imbues value upon an object. I have started telling my children the stories of precious heirlooms, so that when the time comes, they won’t be sold for a quarter at a garage sale.

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  2. I read an online newsletter by The Estate Lady who says the younger generation is no longer interested in “that old stuff.” Consequently, the resale value is quite low on antiques and collectibles.
    That a general statement and I resist it. If we tell the stories that go with these family pieces, I think some will feel the history they hold in their hands and treasure it. You’ve done a great job of attaching the history to this one.

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    • When I was young, I didn’t think a great deal about such things either, Virginia, until my mother handed down a once-common household item that had belonged to the first-born daughter of every mother since before any one living could remember. I wept when she gave it to me. For the first time, I realized I had a heritage, one I knew little about, but a heritage all the same.


  3. Lovely post. Family histories no matter how humble are precious and tell a lovely tale. I am reminded of the wok that I use for cooking at home. It is almost 80 years old, used daily by my husband’s grandmother, and which I now use. If it could talk, it probably has lots of stories (and family gossip!) to share as well.

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  4. jennifertucker44 says

    This is beautiful. I have many things from my grandparents and I love using them. It gives me such joy to pour a cup of tea into a beautiful old cup of my grandmas and remember her with much fondness and love.

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  5. Monica says

    I love the way you’ve written this to the next generations! You’re handing down so much more than these dishes. Your passing down the stories, the love and the ethic that brought them into the family.

    Your stories called to mind a few items on my mother’s shelves. Each has a story and i believe I’m fortunate that she has a notebook somewhere with stories similar to this one that may act as a roadmap to heirlooms when she’s passed.

    Simply beautiful!

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  6. This is a beautiful post Kathryn, and such a lovely way of sharing and remembering something and someone so special to you.

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  7. What a beautiful way to share your family story with your grandkids! I am a grandma of four (they call me Nana) and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what will happen to the many family items I have that have been passed down to me. You have given me the idea of writing the story behind each of the items. Thank you!

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    • You’re welcome. So important to tell our stories. However mundane they may feel to us, to our bairn and descendants they may one day be windows into our hearts. That’s how I feel about any sentence I can find of my grandparents–and theirs.

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