Tiny Tea Cups and a Girl Long Gone

26 Feb

What is truly of great worth?

NOTE: Today’s blog is made possible by a book of writing prompts given to me by my husband on our anniversary, and also by a cold, lazy day that turned out to be good for nothing but sitting by the fire and avoiding work. I will have to write tonight to make up for the lost time, but my brain has decreed this a day for musings.

So, the prompt?
Write about an item you own that is not worth much money but is of great value to you.

My mind immediately brings forth The Tea Set. It represents, not only a bygone era, but a mystery, and, as I think of it, a challenge.

Child's porcelain tea set

Toys? My how things have changed. (By the way, they’re a lot smaller than they look.)

It’s a child’s tea set, made of china, from a pre-plastic era—1885 or so, judging from what I know of the girl I believe was its earliest owner owned it. I cannot determine its manufacturer, as it has no markings, but its design is eclectic at best. The delicate blue and white tea pot is merely four inches tall, wrapped in a rural Asia-like scene of pagoda-topped buildings nestled in the hills and a multi-domed city scape in the distance. My thumb and forefinger look monstrously large as I gingerly grasp the fragile handles on the tiny cups, noting what appears to be a fading fairy sprite hiding in its lush flowery field.

I’m almost afraid to hold the accompanying saucers, which have worn thin and are warped with age, but I can’t resist. They are the same blue and white colors, yet their design seems to be of sparrows darting through a garden.

I try to picture this beautiful, dainty tea service being casually tossed about by some 5-year-old girl; she sitting at a child’s table, pouring imaginary refreshment for the blue-eyed china doll across from her. Why aren’t these dishes cracked and broken? Perhaps children played more calmly back then. Perhaps it was her only toy and she handled it with great care. Or, perhaps, in reverence, she kept them on a shelf, knowing that a woman with a girl’s heart would one day take great joy in their elegance. I’ll always wonder. . .

I know who she was, though, that little girl. But I know so little about her it’s almost shameful. She was my great grandmother, Grace Leahy Craig, who grew up in Wausau, Wisconsin and married Angus Craig, my great grandfather, in June of 1904. When we were children, we were told she linked us to Admiral William Leahy, the Navy’s first five-star admiral, who served during World War II as Roosevelt’s Chief of Staff even before the title had been created, and before that as Chief of Naval Operations, and as governor of Puerto Rico. Sadly, today he is typically only mentioned in jest, for his famous quote about the atomic bomb: “That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The atomic bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.”

grace and arthur 54

Grace and Angus in a Newspaper Clipping from 1954.

But as I dig, I’m more and more convinced Grace’s ancestry did not spring from that shoot of the tree. She was raised by Civil War Capt. John E. Leahy and his wife, Mary. However, their death notices do not name her as a daughter. William Leahy’s father was Michael, possibly John’s brother, who does bear that name, which would make her a cousin by adoption at best. Family lore speaks of a terrible ship explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia that left her an orphan, but I cannot connect those dots yet. Perhaps one day when I’m a famous author I’ll hire an agency to solve this mystery.

 

Grace lived until her 90s, and I do remember visiting her with my grandfather when I was quite young, in the early 60s. We didn’t call her Grace or Grandma, but Dearie. Not sure why. I remember her in the 70s as a frail old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s. Never would I have believed she once played with toys.

I first saw this tea set when my mom inherited it from her mother, sometime around 1995, and I scoffed at its primitiveness. Even then, the plates were warped and the design had faded. However, each time I saw these little pretties I became more intrigued about child who played with them. And when the set came into my possession upon Mom’s death, I fell in love, and today I’d never part with it. I yearn for the simpler time it represents, a time when children played using their imaginations, when it was socially acceptable for girls to play tea party, when one or two toys was considered sufficient.

So what is of great worth? It’s certainly not our possessions, or I’d know more about this set; it’s not in beauty, or I’d feel sad at the faded design; and it’s not our heritage, although that’s interesting — not knowing our past doesn’t make us less amazing people. Great worth is found in the heart. It’s that which makes us care about each other, feel for each other, remember each other. The value is in the loving.

And the challenge? It occurred to me as I started writing this, my mother’s twin brothers still live in Rhode Island. I don’t know why I haven’t thought to contact them about their grandmother. Surely they have a few pieces of the puzzle that I don’t. Of course, this is going to require a trip “up east,” to the land of sandy shores and stone walls, but I’m willing to endure the heartache. Rhode Island-ho!

Thank you, book of prompts, for this trip down memory lane, and for the potential trip ahead.

So tell me, dear readers, what do you have that holds great worth, if only to you?

———–

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. –Prov. 11:24-25

 

8 Responses to “Tiny Tea Cups and a Girl Long Gone”

  1. Sue February 26, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

    Priceless. I will have to look through “the drawer” in the cabinet I got from Mom that was hers. There are writings in there. Wedding date was June 14 per ring. Again, priceless

  2. Elaine Beachy February 26, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

    I would have to say what I treasure most are the love letters my husband and I wrote back and forth for two years before we were married when he was in Missouri. 🙂

    • Portrait Writer February 26, 2016 at 9:42 pm #

      Ah, love letters. You can’t get any better than that. Thank you Elaine. 🙂

  3. Allyn Bamberger February 27, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    Fascinating blog, Rose. I’ll have to think about what I treasure from the past, but it’s probably the Haviland dessert and coffee set my mother bought in France in 1958. It has nothing to do with it’s monetary value but only with the memories, the good ones, of my mother. I’d say you have some genealogy work to do on your great grandma. Having been to Halifax and heard the story of the Halifax explosion, that part of the story was really compelling. The trick would be to find out what her real maiden name was. Perhaps there is a list, I’m sure there is now that I think about it, of the victims of the explosion. Well, enough of that. I’m sure you know how to go about all that!

    • Portrait Writer February 27, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

      Hmmm, good idea. That does sound like an interesting starting point. So, Have you considered writing down as much of the stories surrounding the dessert and coffee set as you can now and tucking it somewhere near them? I’m sure the stories are worth more than the vessels.

  4. Judy Pullen Cover February 27, 2016 at 10:33 pm #

    I love this blog!

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