When I saw the smashed plate, all its beautiful Mexican pottery shards shattered beyond repair I wanted to weep.
“It was only a plate.”
Oh, but not for me.
An artistic story was painted over red clay, one on each of the plates. These dishes had sustained me for so many years with their astonishing brilliant colors and creative designs – each one unique – their stories held dreams, kept me close to my longing for red earth…
A bad omen, I thought as I threw the shards away (only to retrieve them reverently), thinking suddenly of the pale green Luna moth who had struggled at the window just the night before while I was feeling so ill. In the cool July night the moth frantically sought light from a lamp inside my living room that could not sustain her in her death throes. Oddly, this same lamp once belonged to this great aunt (Baba Willie) and her sisters.
My three plates were created by an unknown artist who is now probably dead. I couldn’t afford them then (or now) but I bought three when I moved into the log cabin I had built, and each time I used them I dreamed of living in another place for the winter – a place where diversity was celebrated – a place where love and a sense of community were actual possibilities – a place where I could once again feel child-like joy in friendship.
Ridiculous you say to make such a fuss out of losing a plate…
Oh, but not for me.
I remembered a childhood story… One of my great aunts had a single dish made of the finest translucent bone china that she treasured. It sat on a finely waxed cherry coffee table in my aunts’ Victorian living room. My little brother and I were allowed to hold the plate to examine its milky texture, to see a white moon streaming through its thin shell…or that’s what we imagined. One day, we were playing and I hit the dish with a small ball by accident. The delicate oval shattered into a thousand small pieces. When my great aunt knelt on the floor to pick up the fragments she couldn’t stop weeping… Catapulted out of my eight year old body I hung helplessly in the air hovering over the scene, horror stricken – How could I have done this terrible thing? A cloud of grief became my shroud.
After my aunt carefully deposited the pieces in the garbage my little brother and I carefully gathered up the fragments from the pail and tried to glue the dish back together. But of course, it was too late.
That summer I “worked” for my grandmother. For every Japanese beetle that I picked off my grandmother’s roses I received a penny. By the end of the summer I saved up twenty dollars (which seemed like a huge amount of money to an eight year old) to buy another “perfect” china dish for my aunt. When I gave her my secret savings as a surprise she wept again as she held me in her arms. I never asked her why this dish was so special (I was too ashamed) but somehow I understood that this oval dish was not a piece of china but a dream that had been lost.