Monday, August 20, 2007

The Collection

She started her collection in 1957 when her daughter-in-law brought home the figurine of a little girl tending to chicks. Her son, the one she adored above all others, had married a young lady who was ideal for her boy. She was well mannered, she was accommodating, and she understood her role was to tend to her husband’s needs. Thelma could easily overlook that her daughter-in-law was Catholic, and the fact that her parents were so different gave Thelma plenty to talk about.

When Norm was sent to Morocco for his first assignment, Thelma was very concerned. How would he ever survive there? So she was thrilled when Norm asked Louise to marry him. When they married – albeit in the rectory of the Catholic Church – and Louise went to Morocco to be with him, Thelma’s fears were eased a bit.

Louise wrote often, and it sounded to Thelma that Morocco wasn’t quite the wilds of the world that she had feared. Louise was a dutiful wife and, by extension, daughter-in-law, and she wrote faithfully. When the two returned 18 months later, they came bearing gifts, including the adorable Hummel and some lovely tea cups. Thankfully, Norm was stationed at a base in Massachusetts, so the four of them – Norm and Louise and Thelma and Norm Sr. – found a great house to buy. Two years later, with two little children in tow, her son’s growing family moved to Nebraska for his next assignment.

Louise scraped together money to buy several figurines for Thelma through the years, and others joined in the effort. It was never easy buying a gift for Thelma as there was little she needed, aside from the ever present need for money, and even less that she wanted. It was a safe bet, then, to be able to give her a Hummel or another tea cup.

People change through the years, of course, and my mother, Louise, was no exception. She came into her own by the time she hit 40. By then, her youngest was 13. I was 15. While her love for my father diminished, her love for his mother never did. She continued to dutifully write Thelma, to call her on occasion, and to send her gifts.

After my father’s death in 1987, I made it a point to try to be to Thelma some of what he had been to her. I visited and took her around to all the old haunts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, visiting relatives she didn’t get to see very often. I would listen to her stories, told by holding up different Hummels or different tea cups.

“This one was from your mother in 1969.”

“This one is very special because it was the first one your mom gave me.”

“This shepherd tending his sheep is one of my dearest ones.”

“Here’s a shoe maker. Did you know Grandpa and his father had a shoe shop? They turned to shoes when the blacksmith’s business dried up.”

Never one to pass up a chance for the dramatic, my grandmother started preparing for her death many years before it came. She started putting stickers with the names of her 14 grandchildren on the bottom of her Hummels and her tea cups. Every time I visited, she would make me take a couple of tea cups with me. Once or twice, she pushed a Hummel on me as well. The cups and the Hummels she gave me always told a story and she always made the story somehow connect to me.

I don’t remember very well the stories behind the tea cups. There are more than a dozen in my possession, put away in a box. The Hummels are in my living room, high enough where a child won’t reach them, but low enough so their mother can see them. There’s a shepherd and a girl tending her chicks and a shoe maker and a farm girl. Lovingly picked out by my mother to be lovingly collected by my grandmother and to be lovingly remembered by me.

[This was written for
Scribbit’s August Write-Away Contest and its theme of “collecting.”]
[Updated on August 24: What a great birthday present for me. This post was awarded an honorable mention. Hooray! Thanks to Scribbit and Jenn.]


Scribbit said...

That is so sweet, thanks for sharing this--it made me feel as if I was at tea with your Grandmother.

Mike Minzes said...

Great post!!

Jeni said...

Excellent piece! So many people seem to be on a "sentimental drift" lately, maybe it will be contagious and hit me too. Who knows, it could happen!
I love tea cups - don't have anything that could be an "extensive" collection -maybe 10 or 12 I'd guess but one of them was given to me by my Dad's mother who died when I was 2 1/2, too young to remember her, but she made sure by passing this little cup from Scotland to me when I was just a toddler that I'd always have some little piece of her with me. When I realized at about age 10 or 11 the history behind that little cup, that is when I started to try collecting cups here and there but economics have prevented any additions for a long time. Hmmm. My birthday's come up in about 7 weeks. Maybe this would work as a little hint to my kids. Do ya think it would?

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. Good luck with the contest!

Becky said...

This is lovely. We have several of these, too, and they do remind me of my mother. Thanks for sharing this!

Bea said...

I've got two Hummels - my father-in-law picks them up at garage sales and passes them on. Um, thanks?

Jenn in Holland said...

This is such a poignant piece and really struck a chord with me.
A beautiful set of memories. Thanks for sharing with us.

Lei said...

Thanks so much for your entry... this is a beautiful piece of writing!

The Owners said...



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