Story: The teapot that survived

“What do you think of this?” It was prob­a­bly the twen­ti­eth time my brother or I had asked this ques­tion in the last hour. Our mother had down­sized to a one-bedroom apart­ment in an Alzheimer’s unit just six days ear­lier. Vis­it­ing her there she admit­ted she couldn’t even remem­ber her old apart­ment. We were clean­ing it out.

Almost forgotten history.
Almost for­got­ten his­tory. by martin_kelley, on Flickr

The object of the ques­tion this time was an antique teapot. White china with a blue design. It wasn’t in great shape. The top was cracked and miss­ing that han­dle that lets you take the lid off with­out burn­ing your fin­gers. It had a folksy charm, but as a teapot it was nei­ther prac­ti­cal nor aston­ish­ingly attrac­tive, and nei­ther of us really wanted it. It was headed for the over­sized trash bin out­side her room.

I turned it over in my hands. There, on the bot­tom, was a strip of dried-out and cracked mask­ing tape. On it, barely leg­i­ble and in the kind of cur­sive script that is no longer taught, were the words “Recov­ered from ruins of fire 6/29/23 at 7. 1067 Haz­ard Rd.”

We scratched our heads. We didn’t know where Haz­ard Road might be (Google later revealed it’s in the blink-and-you-miss-it rail­road stop of Haz­ard, Penn­syl­va­nia, a cross­roads only tech­ni­cally within the bound­ary of our mother’s home town of Palmer­ton). The date would place the fire seven years before her birth.

We can only guess to fill in the details. A cat­a­strophic fire must have taken out the fam­ily home. Imag­ine the grim solace of pulling out a fam­ily heir­loom. Per­haps some grand­par­ent had brought it care­fully packed in a small suit­case on the jour­ney to Amer­ica. Or per­haps not. Per­haps it had no sen­ti­men­tal value and it had landed with our mother because no one else cared. We’ll never know. No amount of research could tell us more than that mask­ing tape. Our mother wasn’t the only one los­ing her mem­ory. We were too. We were los­ing the fam­ily mem­ory of a gen­er­a­tion that had lived, loved, and made it through a tragedy one mid-summer day.

I stood there and looked at the teapot once again. It had sur­vived a fire ninety years ago. I would give it a reprieve from our snap judge­ment and the dump. Stripped of all mean­ing save three inches of mask­ing tape, it now sits on a top shelf of my cup­board. It will rest there, gath­er­ing back the dust I just cleaned off, until some spring after­noon forty years from now, when one of my kids will turn to another. “What do you think of this?”