The Blue Box in the Basement

You never know what you’ll bump into when you go look for a stock pot in thepicture basement.  It was covered with dust, the textured finish scratched off in parts, faded spots, and the clasps weren’t clasping.  A blue box, sandwiched between a round metal tray and a red quesadilla maker.  So I opened it, forgetting the soup I had planned to prepare.   A petite, seriously ornate silver urn, tarnished in parts, but still mirror-shiny, lay on cream-colored satin, flanked by twelve neatly arranged, dainty demitasse spoons.  The famous sugar bowl!  Turn the page.  Backwards.  Again and again.  Time-travel to my wonder years, Italy, Portici, a formal visit to picturesomeone’s house, with my parents.  The school superintendent?  Another principal colleague of my father’s?  Here memory fails me.  A flood of sensations, more than images, quivers through my body: the chilly dining room, the sugary smell of shimmering glazed bijoux pastries – velvety chocolate, buttery cherry and apricot tartlets; the old-fashioned stemmed liqueur glasses, filled with a yellow-goldish liquid.  Trying to be polite and choose only one delectable petit-four (but which one, for goodness sake, too many options…), eyeing my siblings’ selections (which of course always turned out to be better than mine).  My parents were sipping coffee from fragile porcelain cups, delicately adding sugar with pointy, super-shiny diminutive spoons.  And my mother’s eyes, wide with admiration and picturelonging.  Fixed on the elaborate silver sugar bowl, glittering  majestically on a doily, its curlicue edge holding a circle of tiny spoons, dangling  soundless and splendid.  We heard nothing else, in the car, on the way back home.  Che meraviglia, che gusto, what a magnificent set, how much could it cost, where did they purchase it and how long ago…She was hopelessly in love with that sugar bowl, my mother, and possessing one exactly like that become her obsession, her recurrent dream, her sole desire.  Frankly, I didn’t see the appeal (a sugar bowl? really?), neither did my father, who tried his best to quell her excitement because he sure didn’t need her to buy some other ‘necessary’ item for the house…However, suddenly, in my eyes it became the thing to have.  Because if my mother loved it so much, it must have had some great value which I, as a child, couldn’t understand but accepted unconditionally.  Some time passed, how much couldn’t tell you.  An elegant box materialized in the dining room one day.  Voila! An identical (I think) sugar bowl-spoons set glittered majestically on the oval marble table, polished like a diamond, my mother’s proudly smiling face reflected in its grandeur.  My heart beat with emotion for a few seconds: genuine joy at my mother’s having obtained the object of her dreams. She looked (was!) happy at that moment, and I intended to treasure the memory.  Years passed, furiously storming through our lives, and I was leaving my home and my country, with eyes blinded by stars.  As I was packing my suitcases, my picturemother came into my room, her own eyes blinded by tears.  She handed me a blue box, which I took with surprise.  Inside was a glittering sugar bowl-spoons set, obviously brand new, almost identical to hers.  A precious gift.  Which I didn’t want because what the hell?  I accepted with false enthusiasm, concerned about how much space it was going to steal from my clothes.  Well, I packed it away, I guess.  Uprooted several times in my American years, I must have taken it with me everywhere, though I don’t recall, just another box.  Now, I’ve polished it with care, and cautiously look at my reflection in the lustrous silver surface.  But it’s my mother I see.

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