When my siblings and I emptied my mother’s apartment in June, there were only a few things that I wanted. A plantation desk that had belonged to my grandfather, a Hummel Nativity set my parents bought in Germany, my maternal grandmother’s mixing bowl and this vase.
It belonged to my father’s mother. She was a woman of great courage. Her father died when she was seven, and she grew up in an orphanage. When she was in her late 20’s she moved from North Carolina to Washington, DC and was there during the First World War. Not married until she was 37, my grandfather was 54. Eight years later she was a widow. A life of adventure, courage and never giving up or yielding to bitterness.
This vase is Nippon Porcelain. That means it was made in Japan and was made between 1891 and 1921. According to the McKinley Tariff Act, imported goods had to be stamped with clear English words (and not Japanese characters). After 1921, items were stamped “Japan”. So, being hand painted Nippon porcelain, it is more valuable.
It is one of a number of things I remember in my parent’s house growing up that belonged to my grandmother. There was sterling silver (all engraved with a “C”, including individual butter spreaders), delicate crystal tumblers etched with wheat and roses that my grandmother got as a wedding gift, a pitcher from Cuba, and a spoon used by the builders of the Panama Canal.
As a young person these items spoke to me of lands far away and materially different than the one I lived in. The sight of these items planted the seed in my heart for seeing exotic lands. The world was big, not just the small one where I lived. The seed grew into a 40-year passion for travel. Travel is indeed, the best education.
The bottom of this vase says “Hand Painted – Nippon”. And the painting is beautiful – lapis blue, Chinese red, yellow ocher, and accents of gold filigree. It reminds me of my grandmother’s love for beauty and her sense of adventure. Legacies passed on to me.
I am already starting to wonder, when you move half way around the world, how do you decide what to take with you. I’m not sure. But I know a few things that will be there. A pastel portrait of my dog, Wilbur, who I had to leave behind, a small calligraphy of Numbers 6:24 (“The Lord Bless You and Keep You”), my grandmother’s mixing bowl, and this Nippon vase.
A vase. Odd, you may say. But it is, for me, an Ebenezer Stone that has meaning. It reminds me of the heritage I have of loving beauty. It brings remembrance that this vase and its exotic markings first stirred in me a curiosity about far flung lands. And, it reminds me of my grandmother’s courage to step out – to move to Washington, to marry my grandfather, long after many would have given up hope.
A talisman, of sort, not of the “good luck charm” kind, but a sign reminding me of a legacy.
In Kigali I will fill my grandmother’s vase with tube roses. They are cheap there. And their smell is intoxicating. And I will drink in beauty and cling to the courage to do a new thing, my Grandmother’s legacy.