As promised, this short, true story is one my grandma wrote, I think in the fifties. She passed away two months ago, but will be an inspiration to me always. I am proud to present: A Trifling Incident, by Annie. Enjoy!
A memory from my childhood days is that Mums in general were somehow obsessed with an almost manic regard for whatever had belonged to their demised grandmothers, and which had been handed down as a legacy to be proud of above most other possessions. Furniture must not be scratched; breakable things like china tea sets must be cosseted and not broken. A crack in any item of treasured crockery registered almost as much tragedy as an unfortunate demise in a family.
“That was my grandmother’s best china,” my Mum would say when I accidentally let a china cup slip. She would then hold it up to the light. “I thought so. I’ll soon have nothing left of what was once owned by my grandmother.” That wasn’t all she said by any means. Tears and gnashing of teeth were commonplace at those times.
So it was that porcelain provided a treasured substitute for what was termed family silver in elite homes of the rich. As I was chief ‘washer-upper’ in the family I was also chief ‘breaker-upper’, and many tears tell on the fragments of even cheap crockery which suffered at the expense of my careless handling.
As I grew older the upsets over broken cups and saucers continued, but when boys started dating me it looked as if broken hearts were about to take over from the porcelain. In due conformity with fussy Mums no boy was likely to fit the bill for my life partnership. Eventually, however, my biological urges encouraged me to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and introduce the boy of my dreams to the family. What better time could there be than Christmastime to do it? Hearts of the fussiest Mums become influenced by the good-will which abounds at Yuletide and enough of it usually overflowed in our household to welcome anyone to our Christmas dinner. So it was that my boy-friend received an invitation to join us at the feast.
Christmas dinner was an auspicious occasion at our house. As the meal of the year it was an Oscar-winning culinary masterpiece. Gluttony became euphemised into palate-tickling Epicureanism which vilified weight-watchers and challenged them with mouth-watering dishes of Christmas fare in the form of smoked salmon, turkey, chicken, pies of all descriptions, cakes of all descriptions and vegetables and fruit galore. Roly-poly and rice pudding were relegated to more sober events and the crowning glory was a huge trifle consisting of fruit, jelly, custard and cream, the whole of which was immersed in the best sherry. This wonderful feast cried out for Mum’s treasured porcelain dishes.
When my boy-friend Tony arrived for his inauguration I showed him one of the china cups. He picked up the treasured cup and held it up to the light.
“This is beautiful,” he said just as my mother walked into the dining room carrying a huge dish full of luscious trifle. She almost dropped the dish she was carrying as she reached out, whipped the cup from his grasp and placed it gently in its saucer.
“That, young man, belonged to my grandmother,” she yelled. It didn’t seem to register with Tony what the look in her eyes was really saying.
“Was it really?” he said innocently. “Perhaps I can help you with the meal?”
“Get him out of here,” whispered my mother, and I duly complied.
“Is she always like that?” asked Tony after she went elsewhere with the cherished trifle.
“No – much worse,” I answered.
Guests arrived and we all sat down to dinner. First course, second course, and finally
the trifle was placed on the table. I recognised the treasured dish in which it was contained: her prize relic.
“I say,” commented Tony, “what a whopping trifle.” This was no understatement. A battalion would have been served quite generously including second helpings. Wine flowed amidst affable hubbub. I noticed Mum’s precious china coffee set laid out at the head of the table.
“Shall I serve the….” Mum didn’t get any further because something terrible happened: quite suddenly the lights went out leaving us all in pitch black. Screams! Clanging of cutlery on plates! Confused utterances!
“Sit down everyone – please,” ordered Mum. She had that something in her voice which made people do what she said. I managed to grope to locate a packet of candles and a box of matches. Our eyes were gradually recovering from the shock of the sudden plunge into eerie blackness, and soon the room had a fairyland glow of candlelight.
Tony’s voice boomed out above the panicky voices. “It’s only a light bulb that’s gone. I’ll put a new bulb in if someone can get me one.”
Mum had already located a new bulb. Tony removed his shoes, stood on his chair and climbed onto the table. He reached up to take out the failed bulb but his hand failed to contact it.
“I can’t reach it,” he gasped. “The flipping thing’s going further away.”
“Get down off the table – quick as you can,” demanded Mum.
What happened next happened so slowly – a thunderous clang and thump mingled with a cry of pain from Tony. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Tony had tipped over the entire table by standing on an extension leaf and he was sitting on the floor amongst a collection of shattered china and various leftovers from the over supplies of goodies. There was trifle over a large portion of him. I plucked a cherry out of his hair. The scene could have been from some slapstick comedy. It was like seeing Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy rolled into one. Then Mum came and stood towering over him and I cringed.
“That’s a mighty fine mess you’ve got yourself into,” was all she said and then she burst into laughter. I still can’t believe she took it that way. She never berated me nor Tony over the breakages. Tony replenished her cupboards with new china and she thinks the world of him.
By the way, the dish which held the trifle was about the only thing which survived the incident intact. My Mum adopted a healthier attitude towards porcelain and china afterwards, but woe betide anyone who dares to breathe on the relic which survived what she now calls ‘a trifling incident’.
Thank you, my grandma would have really appreciated you reading this unpublished story of hers. Please feel free to share it! If you would like to read more about Annie’s life and how she affected mine, check out this post.