Friday, March 15, 2024

The Chocolate Set

My mom and her husband had finally decided to sell their farmhouse just outside Jackson, Tennessee. Set way back from the road, it had always been a favorite destination of ours, one where we'd shared many warm and wonderful family times. But in recent years, my folks had been spending most of their time in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, way over in East Tennessee, so they felt it was time get what they could for the farm property and move on. In 2004, they decided to host an estate sale at the farmhouse, and my Aunt Ida Mae, who lived about 30 miles away in Trenton, offered to help them get everything ready.

Going through a house where you've lived for some fifty-odd years always presents challenges in the sheer volume of articles to be sifted through, and this was certainly no exception. It was decided that the staging area for the sale would be the large dining room, which when I visited was chock-full of dishes, silverware, utensils, and a smattering of memorabilia. Fortunately, neither my mom nor her husband was big into collecting, but even so, the accumulated assortment of household goods was somewhat remarkable, and the dining room table was overflowing.

The sale went off without a hitch and seemingly, to everyone's satisfaction. A few items of special significance had been put away and were not part of the sale, but by the time the event was over, the happy couple was able to list the property and head east to start their next chapter of home ownership. From a distance, it appeared to me that the sale had progressed well. Little did I know that trouble was brewing.

My mom Peggy and her sister Ida (whom all those of her age called Ida Mae) were close. Although twelve years apart in age, they were best friends. When Ida would come to Memphis to visit, she and my mom would routinely stay up until past 2:00 in the morning, drinking coffee and catching up with each other's lives. Although different in temperament, my mom being the subtle one and my aunt the outspoken steel magnolia, they shared enough in common that they were, in modern parlance, "besties." Whenever Ida was around, laughter inevitably ensued. So, it came as a surprise when only a few weeks after the sale had been completed, my mom mentioned to me on the phone one day that she and Ida had encountered "a little problem" and weren't speaking, which to my knowledge had never happened.

It appeared that during the sifting through of the household goods in preparation for the sale, my mom had found a porcelain "chocolate set," similar to the one pictured here, consisting of a pitcher and four matching cups. It was of the design that was so popular throughout the early part of the 20th century, flowers and ribbons, that sort of thing, but that was my mom's style. According to her, when she found the set, she mentioned to Ida that she hadn't seen it for years and was so happy that their mother had left it to her. (My grandmother had passed away 38 years earlier.) Suddenly, Ida stopped what she was doing and said, "No, Peggy, Mother left it to me. Remember?" My mom certainly did not remember, and that's where the trouble began.

The next time I talked to my mother, after we had exchanged our routine updates about what was happening in Atlanta and in Pigeon Forge, I asked how Ida was doing, assuming that the rift had passed. "Well, I haven't heard from her," was my mom's reply. I thought this somewhat odd, given their lifelong closeness, but I let it pass and moved on to other topics. But as the weeks, then months, of 2005 went by, my mom's answer when asked about Ida remained the same, that no words had been exchanged between them. I became concerned about this, because my mom and aunt had always relied on each other to be there. Treading lightly, I finally asked my mom if she had tried to reach out to Ida. The answer was, "Well, no." A-ha. Digging deep into an academic background in psychology and human behavior that I had never used professionally, I suggested that she might make the first move.

Sometime in the very early days of 2006, the dam finally broke. My mom mentioned to me rather casually that yes, she and Ida were back on speaking terms. I didn't ask for details but expressed my happiness that the situation had been resolved. However, the elation turned out to be short-lived, because Ida took her last breath in January of 2007. By this time, my mom had begun to suffer from a debilitating respiratory condition and was unable to attend Ida's funeral. I was quite concerned, because I knew that only if she were in very poor condition would my mom not have been there for her sister. And it turned out that my concern was warranted, for my mom passed away fifteen months later, in April of 2008. It occurred to me that in their last few years together, and I would go so far as to call that time precious, a dispute about an inanimate object had come between them.

A few weeks after my mom had passed, we started going through her possessions, trying to decide which to keep and which to give away. Our two daughters had fond regard for some of the items, but when it came to the chocolate set, they both treated it as if it were made of plutonium. Finally, Sarah said that she'd like to have the pitcher and glasses set with etched sailboat designs, and Hannah agreed to inherit the chocolate set. (But it still doesn't live with her, so there's that.)

Of course, there's a lesson in all this that we shouldn't get too wrapped up in trivial disagreements, because we never know what's right around the corner. At this point, I can only hope that somewhere up on high, my mom and Ida are together sipping coffee, not hot chocolate...out of paper cups.