I often hear about descendants of the recently departed fighting over the material remains of the fallen. The items of grandeur usually involve money left in bank accounts, and property that was owned by the individual. The many years of celebrating together as a family slowly morphs into litigation against one another. Cherished family possessions are now claimed as individual possessions.
I didn’t come from a wealthy background, but within the outer orbits of my extended family as a child, there were always disagreements between brothers and sisters when the estates of their parents were to be divided. From what my young ears would hear, it certainly sounded like there was to be a permanent family division. I couldn’t understand why people argued about acquiring trivial objects, while they already possessed an abundance of goods in their own homes.
REMEMBERING THE LITTLE THINGS
When my maternal grandmother, “Grandma Ann”, died in 1987, there wasn’t much of an estate to divide up. My mom’s parents never owned a house, and when her dad died in 1975, my parents got my grandfather’s olive green Chevrolet Nova. When I was a boy, Grandma Ann lived in a second-floor apartment on South 19th Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side for the last eleven years of her life.
My brother and I had a lot of fun playing with many old toys that she had in a small bedroom. They were the old toys of our one uncle, who was about twenty-five years older than the two of us. Out of everything in that spare room, I really enjoyed playing the board game, “Sorry!”. If I wasn’t playing Sorry! with my mom at the dining table in the kitchen, I would try to eat all the maraschino cherries in the refrigerator. I also remember my grandmother always having a package of iced oatmeal cookies in the house.
The simple, small details of my visits to Grandma Ann’s apartment are what remain with me today. When I play Sorry! with my son, I think of my grandmother. When I see packages of iced oatmeal cookies at the supermarket, I think of my grandmother. When I dip a spoon into a small jar of maraschino cherries to get a few out, I think of that time in my life.
THE HOUSE SALE
My paternal grandparents, “Pap Pap K & Grandma K”, didn’t have a lot of money either, but they did own a house. It was the childhood home of Grandma K, and they bought the house off of her parents sometime in the 1950s. It was a double-brick row house in Carey Way on Pittsburgh’s South Side, so it did carry some value, despite the house never being updated (It had one toilet and shower–both in the cold, unfinished basement, and no washer/dryer hookups). My grandfather died in 1988, and my grandmother lived in that house on her own, until she died in 2008.
In his spare time, my dad cleaned out the house and prepped it for sale in 2009. The home had quite a few antique items, so our family decided to advertise a house sale before signing an agreement with a real estate agent. The sale was a success, moving several large items out of the house before the home was sold.
Before the final house sale, my mom and dad said each grandchild could have one item of our choosing, and whatever was left over from the sale, we could, “fight” over what remained. I think they anticipated all four grandchildren to take something large to make use in their very own house. I informed them that I was taking the old, plastic candy dish.
My parents couldn’t believe my answer. “That’s it!?!”, they exclaimed.
HOLDING ON TO THE LITTLE THINGS
As a child, going to see my Pap Pap K & Grandma K was just as fun as my Grandma Ann’s apartment. They had their own set of toys for me to play with, they had snacks, and they had a nice porch swing that was hung on the ceiling of an open-ended shed in the yard. Grandma K would play bingo and tic-tac-toe with me at the kitchen table, and I would negotiate TV time with my Pap Pap. The usual deal was this: I would let Pap Pap watch an hour of Perry Mason reruns, and I would get to watch Nickelodeon for one hour.
My visits to their house in Carey Way also developed a lost-lasting affinity toward certain foods and toys, just as I did with some items over at my Grandma Ann’s. I always try to have a couple of cans of Campbell’s vegetable soup in my house. When I eat a bowl, it reminds me of when I ate the same thing for lunch at my grandparents’ house, almost forty years ago. My son likes the different flavors of Pepperidge Farm’s famous Goldfish crackers, but I prefer the original flavor, because my grandparents always had them at their house. When I used to pick up my son from daycare, sometimes I would see him playing with wooden blocks. In 1979, I was playing with the same style of wooden blocks at Pap Pap & Grandma K’s house.
From the time I was a toddler, up until the last time I visited Grandma K in the fall of 2007, she had the same candy dish, with a matching lid. It started out as a gold and white striped dish, but over time, it developed various shades of brown and green from being picked up thousands of times over five decades. Inside the dish was usually some type of hard candy, but when I was younger, the dish was always filled with individually wrapped pieces of jelly candy. Grandma K and my dad always had to hide the dish after I would consume a minimum of ten jelly candies. Opening that lid was always a new discovery for me, even when I grabbed my final few pieces of, “old person hard candy” out of it in my 30s. I was glad to see that nobody threw it away when I arrived at the house in 2009. In a house full of antique items, I felt that I secured a valuable memory of the house on Carey Way, a small piece of my childhood that can travel with me for years to come.
PIECES OF CANDY, PIECES OF THE PAST
For the last 11 years, my wife and I have used my Grandma K’s candy dish. We’ve replaced the hard candy with chocolate candy, and our son loves to see what’s inside of the dish (which is why we keep it on the top shelf in a cupboard right now!). Occasionally, I’ll hold the dish in my hands, and look at all of the blemishes around the outside of it. A simple, faded candy dish is now a daily reminder of what was good in my childhood. If I can’t revisit the physical places of my past, I’ll always try to preserve the memories of them in other ways.
Especially, if candy is involved.