When Nathalie first proposed the topic for this week – how a single object recounts some part of our family history – I knew this was a simplified project for me. This is because there are only two older objects in my possession to choose from. One is a batik sarong from my mother’s eldest sister; the other is a set of teacups from my maternal grandmother, who I saw for the last time as a four year old, and who I don’t remember.
I’ve opted to tell you about the teacups. A few years after my mother immigrated to Canada with me and my two siblings, she received word that my grandmother was dying. My mother got on a plane for a final goodbye, too late in the end, and these teacups eventually came back with her.
There are five of them, blue and white. I think they are made of porcelain. I don’t know whether they were once accompanied by a teapot; neither does my mother remember.
I don’t know if they were used for drinking, either for everyday or for special tea ceremonies, or whether they were ornamental items. I don’t know whether they were treasures handed down to my grandmother or whether she bought them at the corner stall. I don’t know where they were made, or the meaning behind the images on them, and have never tried to learn. I have no idea if they are valuable or not, and couldn’t be less interested.
I do know that my mother has let me have them. They sit atop a high ledge that surrounds my dining room, about a foot away from each other, and high enough that they are as secure as they can be from my three playful boys. Even so, it’s possible that a ball or plane or other projectile could shatter one (but hopefully not the others as they are interspersed). While the children are young, the only truly safe alternative is to put them away, out of view, and this I will not do.
When my mother came to Canada with her three kids and little else, she left quite a lot in Malaysia: a large, close-knit family, a career as a nurse/midwife, a good standard of living, a life she built with her husband before he suddenly died. For reasons only she will really know, she doesn’t, or can’t, talk much about the things she left behind. I used to wonder about this, question it, evaluate it, because I so much wanted to know something, anything, more.
I don’t do this much anymore. I have my grandmother’s teacups, and I will be careful with them. And if I’m not mistaken, it gave my mother some pleasure when I put them up on my dining room ledge.