When I was sixteen, my grandmother asked what I wanted to inherit from her and indicated her jewelry box. I asked for her tea cups.
She immediately gave me my favorite one of the tea cups and said I could have the rest when she died. I found that grim, but she insisted.
Grandma died when I was nineteen, and before they broke down the contents of her house, my mother asked what I would like. I told her about the tea cups, and then she asked about anything else.
I knew what I wanted.
The first summer I had a job, I ended up at home while the rest of my family was on vacation, and I stayed with Grandma. She told me stories from years ago, something I didn’t know how much I’d miss after she died. She went to the china cabinet and pulled out a rather nondescript wine glass.
“Back during the Depression,” she told me, “when we had no money at all, your grandfather came home one day with a box of these four wine glasses. I said to him, ‘Pat, how could you do that? We don’t have the money for that!’ He said to me, ‘Wait,’ and then did this–”
And so help me, my grandmother took a butter knife and cracked it right into the wine glass, making me jump. “Listen!” she said, and I heard a distinctive ring from the glass.
She said, “That’s crystal. He bought these four crystal wine glasses for ten cents.”
Stories are what matter in life, the most valuable gift you get from the people you love. I said to my mother, “I want those wine glasses.”
A few weeks alter I returned from college for spring break, and my mother showed me a sealed cardboard box. “Those are the tea cups,” she said, “and a couple of other things.”
I said, “Did you get the wine glasses too?”
She said, “Uncle Mayhem took them.”
It was immature of me, but I hated that. Yes, Grandma was Uncle Mayhem’s mother, and he deserved sentimental pieces more than I did, but it twisted my stomach because I’d asked for so little. No expensive jewelry, no fur coat, nothing like that. Just ten cents in wine glasses and a story. I stashed the box in my closet and forgot about it.
Five years later, preparing to get married and move out, I said to my Patient Fiancee, “Hey, look at this.”
We sat in the living room while I unwrapped the five beautiful tea cups and their matching saucers. We unwrapped the candy dish I’d found at an antique shop which mysteriously matched my favorite tea cup. I unwrapped two brandy glasses my grandmother had always used to keep sugar cubes and the keys to her tenants’ apartments.
And then I unwrapped a crystal wine glass.
I have no idea how they got in there, but all four of those wine glasses sat at the bottom of my box of inheritance. I think my grandmother intervened to make sure I got one of the only things I’d asked for, something I knew the value of because of a summer afternoon in her kitchen during a family vacation, a shared time and a shared story about something no one else recognized as valuable.