When I was a little girl, my mother had me read Blue Willow, by Doris Gates, published in 1940. It’s a story about a little girl, Janey, whose father becomes a migrant worker in the San Joaquin Valley in California, in the 1930s. Janey’s prized possession is a Blue Willow plate that is both a family heirloom and a symbol of the permanent home she longs for.
When my daughter, Amy, was three or four years old, I found a Blue Willow patterned plate in a yard sale. I gleefully bought it, put a plate hanger on it, and hung it on my kitchen wall. I loved that plate and the memories of talking about the story with my mother that it evoked, and it served as a vehicle for introducing the story to Amy when it was her turn to read Blue Willow.
It was Amy’s job to dust the kitchen, and one day, when she was dusting the stuff hanging on the walls, my Blue Willow plate came crashing down. I heard it from the living room and came rushing in to see what had broken. My heart sank when I saw what was lying on the floor in pieces. My little girl held the dust cloth in her hand, a frightened look on her face.
I was angry. I treasured that plate, and I thought Amy had been careless because she didn’t like dusting. (She hated dusting, and I did too, when I was her age.) I don’t remember what I said to her, but I remember that it stung. I could see it in her face. I remember that she said she had been careful, but the plate had just fallen. I could tell that she felt really bad about the plate; it was written all over her. I picked up the plate and looked at the hanger. The nail it had been hanging on had pulled out of the wall. The same thing would have happened to me, if I’d been the one dusting the plate.
I gave Amy a big hug and told her that she was more important to me than the plate was, so much more important that she could not even imagine it. Feelings assuaged, Amy continued to dust the kitchen, and I picked up the pieces of the Blue Willow plate.
I almost threw the plate away. It was badly broken, and even if I glued it back together, the breaks would show. But then I thought that maybe I needed to mend the plate to remind me of a very important lesson: Never let things become more important than my kids or their feelings.
So I glued the Blue Willow plate back together as best I could, and I hung it back on the wall with a longer, stronger nail.
When we remodeled the kitchen when Amy was about twelve, I ended up putting the plate in the space on top of the cabinets with some other blue treasures. (That is Amy’s 3rd grade painting of a clown on the wall. Those of you who know me from UNR days might remember it hanging in our graduate teaching assistant office.)
A few days ago, I started taking down, washing up, and packing up my cabinet top treasures in preparation for another kitchen renovation. The first thing I took down was the Blue Willow plate. Still broken and badly mended. Still beautiful to me.
I wrapped the plate carefully and put it in the “save” box to put back up after the impending kitchen remodel is done. The lessons embedded in that plate are too valuable to lose. I hope that one day Amy will treasure it in her kitchen as much as I have always done.