Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Teapots are not forever and family trees last a long time!

One of my most distinct ongoing daily memories of growing up in my mom and dad’s house was that of the teapot whistling in their kitchen. I remember hearing it and feeling it in the whole house. It appeared to me that it was always the same teapot and the same whistle – kind of timeless to the eyes of a child and what I remember from that perspective. Mom or Dad were always boiling water either to salt/kasher the meat (remember those days?) or more regularly and often to have a cup of tea or coffee, and I have wonderful memories of us all sitting with our boiling water and Lipton tea bags in front of us. This of course was BWU (Before Water Urns)! So until this day, there is something about always having a teapot on my stovetop even though our water does indeed come from the urn and the teapot is mostly for effect, to tell the truth – think kitchen jewelry! Clearly this has not made the same impact on our children and family!

As Ken and I were shopping for Pesach this year and replenishing what needed to be bought in addition to food, I realized that our teapot for the year (as opposed to the blue and red signature one we take out for Pesach) was looking rather sad and worn and quite unexpectedly I found a beautiful sparkling purple teapot on our shopping expedition! I suggested that we send ours to teapot heaven and splurge on this beautiful new piece of “kitchen art.” We did just that! I was quite pleased with my new teapot though I must admit I take it as a personal affront when something breaks or wears out because I am so good at taking care of things. But of course, it happens! So home we went with some dish brushes, a few other things and the new purple teapot which we would use for Pesach and after that during the year – my new “forever (or NOT) teapot”!

Pesach was wonderful and of course, the teapot did not make an impression on anyone. Nor did we ever hear it whistle because the urn just did its thing! The only real use was for pouring boiling water over our sink and surfaces we would be using for the coming holiday observance.

Then the day after Pesach ended, our family had the unveiling for my mom and dad, both of whom finished their work and journey on this earth this past fall. Children, grandchildren who could be there, great-grandchildren, and assorted cousins and best friends gathered at the cemetery where their bodies lie in Baltimore as we thought about Mom and Dad and what they left for us as their “forever people” to continue their legacy. My sister, Pam, is an artist and presented us with a beautiful book of the legacy and history of Ken and Hannah, our parents. It was so clear in that book, as in the many pictures and books we have already assembled to honor this legacy and in the many stories we tell that my parents and the generations before them are definitely continuing in all of us in concrete and visceral ways. This was also evident in the stories we continue to tell and share and the teachings that our generation instills in OUR children and grandchildren (or children’s children, in my personal case!) as well as the cousins (second, third and fourth, whatever that means!) daily through example as well as and more than through word.

I have always admired the Native Americans and their story telling traditions in which the teachings and wisdom of the elders are passed on and maintained through the generations, keeping the thread of connection to one’s past intact while simultaneously setting the roots of the future in place. I often asked my parents for their stories. I know that each of us did so and as a result have a different lens on their lives, depending on what and how they shared at different times. During most of their lives, my father was much more forthcoming in talking about his past (even about the Navajo Indian Chief who was part of his family’s experience long ago and whose picture we all saw many times in my parents’ house). As I have written earlier, through the last years of my mom’s life, specifically the last year itself, I learned many of these stories that she shared with me through the fog of her dementia, but I am grateful that I have this legacy to pass on to others. I am confident that my brother, sister, and cousins will all continue to do the same.

We read in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) about how life is ephemeral and how it comes and goes while the earth on which it plays out remains. While we often worry about that earth – our planet – given what is going on in our reality today, the point is that things do take on a life of their own. I have learned this as I now often wear my “legacy jewelry” – that is jewelry from my mom (as well as my mother-in-law and her sister) – I feel the connection to my mom’s soul and her being in so many ways as I do towards my dad. I still hear their voices and their wisdom as well as their pain and their challenges and I continue to carry all of this with me every day. My children know this and their children will come to know that this is part of who I am as well. As for my new teapot – maybe I will boil up some water every now and then and give the urn a rest, and think of my parents’ kitchen and the life that once was there.

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