Grandma’s Cup and Saucer


For a recent class, I was required to read an essay by Liz Rohan on the use of material rhetoric to create and store our memories. During the reading, I had a flash of recognition and understanding for an activity that I have been doing since my grandmother passed away. My happiest memories coming out of a difficult childhood were the summers spent at my grandparent’s house in the deep Ozarks of Arkansas. A hillbilly farmer’s wife, my grandmother was large, loud, rough and hardy. Yet there was an activity she did on a nightly basis that decried her appearance. After dinner was over, my grandmother would take out a delicate cup and saucer from her good dishes, pour coffee into the cup, add two lumps of sugar and a dollop of fresh cream from her cows. Carefully balancing the small saucer in one large calloused hand, she would take hold of the little cup handle with the hefty fingers of her other hand, pour some of the coffee into the saucer, set the cup down on the kitchen table, and sip from the saucer. Watching my grandmother daintily sip her coffee this way, rather than the usual mug she used in the morning, was a puzzling mystery until I was old enough to join. She explained this was how the hoity-toity church ladies would drink their coffee to show their refined manners. Later I realized that my grandmother, though resigned to her lot in life, truly wished for and wanted to be something different. It was from my grandmother that I learned to love coffee and I drank it exactly the way she did. Until the day she died.

I realized that I, like Janette (the woman in the essay), was building a piece of mnemonic material to enhance my memories. Not in the form of a quilt, but in the form of a collection that started the day I was forbidden to travel to my grandmother’s funeral. After her death, I was sent a small dish that she kept her hairpins in, her cookie cutters, and the rolling pin that my grandfather made. The first time I made cookies with the cutters and the rolling pin, it was as though I was watching my grandmother in her kitchen. As explained by Rohan using any of these pieces had the ability to transport me back to the geographical location of my grandparent’s farm (372). I made the decision to locate the rest of the kitchen items that I watched her use. Since 1986, I have scoured antique shops looking for and purchasing the same kitchen utensils from her kitchen. These pieces of memory are now housed in a special cabinet in my own kitchen. What I also find when I use them or look at them is a sense of nostalgia for those happy times from my childhood. Using items that I have collected from that era with new recipes is an example of remediation. “The new and old mediums reinforce and interact with each other” (376). Not only am I remembering the time when my grandmother taught me to use the rolling pin, I am making new memories with my significant other as I teach him to roll out a piecrust or with my sons, as we cut out cookies using my grandmother’s recipe and her cookie cutters.

There has been one piece of artifact that I have not been able to locate. That is the duplicate to the cup and saucer my grandmother used. In my searching, the idea has always been to locate the dishes; however, I have always known that somehow I would be content with the cup and saucer. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s in her later years, eventually dying from the disease. While living in a nursing home she continued to drink her coffee the same way with the same cup and saucer. Rohan explains the use of physical objects for the recollection process states, “Memory had to be housed outside the mind – elsewhere, in things” (370). Not only did her continual use of the cup and saucer connect her with pieces of herself she was losing to the disease, but for me to locate the cup and saucer would keep the memory of my grandmother alive. Not only with the tangible item she used, but also by duplicating her nightly ritual of pouring the coffee from the cup into the saucer, setting the cup on the table, and sipping from the saucer, I would be creating a type of memorial. Complete with two lumps of sugar and a dollop of fresh cream.

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Works Cited

Rohan, Liz. “I Remember Mamma: Material Rhetoric, Mnemonic Activity, and One Woman’sTurn-of-the-twentieth-century Quilt”. Rhetoric Review 23.4 (2004): 368–387. Web...

Avie Layne 2012