The Little Glass Chip

The Little Glass Chip

From A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Little Glass Chip

Quite often my mother would request me to set the family table with the “good china.” Because this occurred with such frequency, I never questioned these occasions. I assumed it was just my mother’s desire, a momentary whim, and did what I was asked.

One evening as I was setting the table, Marge, a neighbor woman, dropped by unexpectedly. She knocked on the door and Mother, busy at the stove, called to her to come in. Marge entered the large kitchen and, glancing at the beautifully set table, remarked, “Oh, I see you’re expecting company. I’ll come back another time. I should have called first anyway.”

“No, no, it’s all right,” replied my mother. “We’re not expecting company.”

“Well then,” said Marge with a puzzled look on her face, “why would you have the good china out? I use my good china only twice a year, if that.”

“Because,” my mom answered laughing softly, “I’ve prepared my family’s favorite meal. If you set your best table for special guests and outsiders when you prepare a meal, why not for your own family? They are as special as anyone I can think of.”

“Well yes, but your beautiful china will get broken,” responded Marge, still not understanding the importance of the value my mother had assigned to esteeming her family in this way.

“Oh well,” said Mom casually, “a few chips in the china is a small price to pay for the way we always feel as we gather as a family at the dinner table, using these lovely dishes. Besides,” she added with a girlish twinkle in her eyes, “all these chips have a story to tell, now don’t they?” She looked at Marge as though this woman with two grown children should have known this.

Mom walked to the cupboard and took down a plate. Holding it up she said, “See this chip? I was 17 when this happened. I’ll never forget that day.” My mother’s voice softened and she seemed to be remembering another time. “One fall day, my brothers needed help putting the last of the season’s hay up, so they hired a young, strong, handsome buck to help out. My mother had asked me to go to the hen house to gather fresh eggs. It was then that I first noticed the new help. I stopped and watched for a moment as he slung large heavy bales of fresh green hay up and over his shoulder, tossing them effortlessly into the hay mow. I tell you, he was one gorgeous man: lean, slim-waisted with powerful arms and shiny thick hair. He must have felt my presence because with a bale of hay in mid-air, he stopped, turned and looked at me, and just smiled. He was so incredibly handsome,” she said slowly, running a finger around the plate, stroking it gently.

“Well, I guess my brothers took a liking to him because they invited him to have dinner with us. When my older brother directed him to sit next to me at the table, I nearly died. You can imagine how embarrassed I felt because he had seen me standing there staring at him. Now, here I was seated next to him. His presence made me so flustered, I was tongue-tied and just stared down at the table.”

Suddenly remembering that she was telling a story in the presence of her young daughter and the neighbor woman, Mom blushed and hurriedly brought the story to conclusion. “Well anyway, he handed me his plate and asked that I dish him a helping. I was so nervous that my palms were sweaty and my hands shook. When I took his plate, it slipped and cracked against the casserole dish, knocking out a chip.”

“Well,” said Marge, unmoved by my mother’s story, “I’d say that sounds like a memory I’d try to forget.”

“On the contrary,” countered my mother. “One year later I married that marvelous man. And to this day, when I see that plate, I fondly recall the day I met him.” She carefully put the plate back into the cupboard—behind the others, in a place all its own, and seeing me staring at her, gave me a quick wink.

Aware that the passionate story she had just told held no sentiments for Marge, she hurriedly took down another plate, this time one that had been shattered and then carefully pieced back together, with small droplets of glue dribbled out of rather crooked seams. “This plate was broken the day we brought our newborn son, Mark, home from the hospital,” Mom said. “What a cold and blustery day that was! Trying to be helpful, my six-year-old daughter dropped that plate as she carried it to the sink. At first I was upset, but then I told myself, “It’s just a broken plate and I won’t let a broken plate change the happiness we feel welcoming this new baby to our family. As I recall, we all had a lot of fun on the several attempts it took to glue that plate together!”

I was sure my mother had other stories to tell about that set of china.

Several days passed and I couldn’t forget about that plate. It had been made special, if for no other reason, because Mom had stored it carefully behind the others. There was something about that plate that intrigued me and thoughts of it lingered in the back of my mind.

A few days later my mother took a trip into town to get groceries. As usual I was put in charge of caring for the other children when she was gone. As the car drove out of the driveway, I did what I always did in the first ten minutes when she left for town. I ran into my parents’ bedroom (as I was forbidden to do!), pulled up a chair, opened the top dresser drawer and snooped through the drawer, as I had done so many times before. There in the back of the drawer, beneath soft and wonderful smelling grown-up garments, was a small square wooden jewelry box. I took it out and opened it. In it were the usual items: the red ruby ring left to my mother by Auntie Hilda, her favorite aunt; a pair of delicate pearl earrings given to my mother’s mom by her husband on their wedding day; and my mother’s dainty wedding ring, which she often took off as she helped do outside chores alongside her husband.

Once again enchanted by these precious keepsakes, I did what every little girl would want to do: I tried them all on, filling my mind with glorious images of what I thought it must be like to be grown up, to be a beautiful woman like my mother, and to own such exquisite things. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to command a drawer of my very own and be able to tell others they could not go into it!

Today I didn’t linger too long on these thoughts. I removed the fine piece of red felt on the lid of the little wooden box that separated the jewelry from an ordinary-looking chip of white glass—heretofore, completely meaningless to me. I removed the piece of glass from the box, held it up to the light to examine it more carefully, and following an instinct, ran to the kitchen cabinet, pulled up a chair and climbed up and took down the plate. Just as I had imagined, the chip—so carefully stored beneath the only three precious keepsakes my mother owned—belonged to the plate she had broken on the day she first laid eyes on my father.

Wiser now, and with more respect, I cautiously returned the sacred chip to its place beneath the jewels along with the piece of fabric that protected it. Now I knew for sure that the china held for Mother a number of love stories about her family, but none so memorable as the legacy she had assigned to that plate. With that chip began a love story of love stories, now in its 53rd chapter; my parents have been married for 53 years!

One of my sisters asked my mother if someday the antique ruby ring could be hers, and my other sister has laid claim to Grandmother’s pearl earrings. I want my sisters to have these beautiful family heirlooms. As for me, well, I’d like the memento representing the beginning of a very extraordinary woman’s extraordinary life of loving. I’d like that little glass chip.

Bettie B. Youngs

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