Margie came by to do the appraisal while I visited Gram at the nursing home. Our visits are mostly silent now, my breathing slowing as I sit near her, then quickening if she startles, her hands fluttering in the air like small birds. She usually sleeps, but when she's awake her eyes are still the brilliant blue of a June sky.
Thank God for small towns, I thought as I walked back into Gram's quiet house. I couldn't stand by and watch Gram's things being pawed through and scrutinized like some roadside flea market. Margie understood, and she knew where to find the spare key and how to jiggle the tricky door knob to let herself in. Now it was done and the detailed list had been left for me to review. My eyes quickly scanned the inventory. The rocking chair, with arms like two curved swans' necks, was worth more than I had expected. Also the solid oak bedroom set, with the dresser with tiny lidded compartments on top where Gram had let me keep my childhood treasures. The potted plants on the side porch, where she had faithfully watered and weeded while she coaxed songs from Petey the parakeet, were worth hardly anything at all.
"Maybe you can give these to her friends," Margie had suggested. "They would mean more to them than to some stranger who just shows up at the sale."
The list seemed complete – living room, three bedrooms, basement and porches, the kitchen and finally, the dining room. That's when my eyes tripped over a number. I reread the line over and over; bringing the paper close to my face to be sure I was seeing correctly. The beautiful glass dishes that Gram had acquired over the years, the lovely cobalt and cranberry, Fostoria and Jeanette, some received as gifts and others plucked from boxes of soap or sales at the five and ten, this assortment that we had eaten cereal and spaghetti from for as long as I could remember, was worth over $5,000. Margie had scribbled a note: Even though some pieces show wear and most of the sets are incomplete, this collection is worth at least $5,000. Take care when you pack them up!
Take care when I pack them up! I laughed to myself. I had never taken care of them up until now, so this seemed like a funny time to start. I think I was five when I broke the first blue Aurora bowl. I remember crying when it shattered, Cheerios and milk and shards of blue glass on Gram's yellow kitchen floor. Gram came and settled me with a Popsicle while she cleaned up the mess. She wasn't mad; I remember that she sang a song while she scooped up the broken glass. My mom always got mad when I broke things, but Gram never did. I was seven, and crying again after breaking a Manhattan plate, when she explained why she didn't get upset about it.
"It's only a plate, sweetie," she said.
"But it's special and valuable. Mom said so. She said we shouldn't even eat off of them."
"Pfff, it's a plate. It's no good at all if we can't eat off of it. No use having a bunch of pretty glass sitting around and not being able to eat off of them. Besides, breaking glass can be a good thing."
"Mom doesn't say it's good. She gets mad when I break things."
"I think breaking something that I like is kind of a good luck charm. It keeps something bad from happening."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, maybe someone was supposed to get hurt or sick today. Maybe a bad storm was going to come or someone going to lose their job. When I break something that I like I think it keeps those kind of things away. So today when you broke that plate you kept something worse from happening."
After that, I never cried over broken glass again. Instead, like Gram, I was very cheerful as I cleared the mess, wondering which potential crisis my clumsiness had averted. My mother never understood.
"You and your grandmother and your broken glass," she would sigh, as I happily swept up the shards. "It's just an excuse for not being careful."
One night, I waited at Gram's in a snowstorm. We were washing dishes and looking out the window watching for Mom. Every branch of the trees and the old lilac bush next to the porch were encased in ice, and the driveway and lawn glittered in the circle thrown by the porch light. While I was distracted by the sparkling landscape, a cranberry glass plate slipped from my soapy hands. I lurched to keep it from breaking. The cranberry glass was always my favorite, the way it captured the light and seemed to be lit from the inside. I fumbled with the plate, getting closer and closer to the floor. I caught it just before it hit, and raised it triumphantly for Gram to see.
"I saved one," I laughed. The words were no sooner out of my mouth when the plate slid from my still wet hands and broke on the floor into ruby colored splinters of glass, each holding its own spark of flame.
I had barely finished sweeping up the pieces when the police car pulled into the driveway, its glittering red lights a mirror of the shattered plate. After we helped Mom into the house and settled her into the swan-armed rocker with some tea, I asked Gram how the accident could have happened since the plate broke.
"Only the car got hurt, sweetie," she replied. "The plate did its work tonight."
Over the years I had learned the names of some of the patterns. Gram just laughed.
"So, it's cherry blossom, is it? Well, I guess that's a good name. Though I just call it the pink one with flowers. And I think it looks even better when it has some food on it."
I ran my hand over the cherry blossom pattern, and the pearl and oyster relish tray, perfect for celery. And one of the few remaining cobalt blue plates, which really showed off Gram's special deviled eggs – "a little horseradish is the secret," she would whisper as she winked at me. "But don't tell your mother, she thinks she doesn't like horseradish."
I remembered, too, the broken plates and bowls and cups; all of the good luck charms that Gram and I had created. She would laugh if she knew that the survivors were worth so much money. To her, they were only plates. Prettier than some other plates, perhaps, but still just plates. It would be a shame to see them go to a place where they would be locked away and just looked at. I slid them from the china closet to the table, where they sparkled in the sunlight coming through Gram's lace curtains. All different colors, all different patterns, all used.
I packed them up, several heavy boxes, taking my usual amount of care with them. Then, one by one, I carried the boxes to the porch, panting with the weight, but knowing that my feet knew the way without my eyes being able to see the floor.
Resting for a few minutes on the porch swing, I looked at Gram's thriving plants, and the empty bird cage where Petey the parakeet used to sing. I could smell the lilacs; always Gram's favorite flower. When I buried my face in the purple blossoms it was like being wrapped in her arms. Finally I stood up, and opening each box, lifted each of the old dishes one by one and flung them out into the spring sunlight—purple, blue, green, red, crystal—all hovering for a split second before dropping, not sure if I was seeking a memory or a promise in the familiar heart-stopping crash and sun-catching beauty of shattered glass.
BIO: Beth Moulton’s stories and poems have appeared in The Pen and Ink Times, The MontGazette and Circa - A Literary Review. She lives and works near Valley Forge, PA.