Remodeling the Kitchen

In Memoriam: Virginia French

As I pack up the decorative items in my kitchen (I’ve barely started on the contents of the cabinets), I am washing things so that they can be put away clean and taken back out and put back clean. I have time, as I wash, dry, and wrap, to think about what these things mean to me, and in some cases, what they meant to someone else.

One of the things I have to find a new space for after the kitchen remodel is this huge vase/urn/thing that belonged to my mother-in-law.

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When I took this thing down from the top of the cabinet and washed it, I found the tag Virginia had placed on the bottom many years ago. On a piece of white adhesive tape (the kind we used for really big boo-boos when I was a kid), she’d written: “Lee and I bo’t this in Tijuana, Mex. in 1951.”

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Lee was Virginia’s husband and my husband’s father.  Dennis’ dad died when Dennis was seven years old. Lee had gone on a hunting trip, fell asleep at the wheel while driving home after getting his buck, and was killed when his vehicle drifted across oncoming traffic. It was a devastating blow to Dennis, his older sisters, and his mom. I know that Virginia loved her husband very much. She talked about him quite a bit over the years, and I think this vase was a reminder of a time that was very precious to her.  1951 was three years before Dennis was born, and about five years before Virginia was mistakenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

This vase was one of the things Virginia brought with her when she moved up to Susanville to be close to us in the early ’90s. She downsized from a double-wide mobile home to a one-bedroom apartment, where space was very limited, and she chose to bring this huge vase with her. One handle of the vase has been broken and mended (more skillfully than I did with my Blue Willow plate).  It obviously meant a great deal to her.

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When Virginia’s disease progressed to the point where she could no longer live alone, she moved into the convalescent facility in Susanville and lived there for ten years before she passed away. The vase (and a lot of other things) came to our house when Virginia moved out of the apartment and into the nursing home.  She put these adhesive tape tags on many of the things she passed on to us, so that we would know their significance.  I really appreciate that now and have begun to do the same thing for my kids.

Virginia and I didn’t get along well.  I was never good enough for her baby boy, and she let me know it.  I always tried to be respectful to her, but I often didn’t like her much. I appreciated her better qualities, though.  She had guts, a good sense of humor, and faith.  I think at times I resented her for still being alive when my mother was gone.  But after she passed away, I missed her more than I thought I would.

I think this vase is ugly. I don’t really like it. But it was important to my mother-in-law, and out of respect for her, I can’t discard it. Maybe my kids will be able to get rid of it when I am gone. They are far enough removed, emotionally, to not be particularly moved by it. But I am. I look at that vase, and at that faded tag written in Virginia’s distinctive script, and I think about the father-in-law I never met, the family that he left behind, the struggles they all went through with his loss, and the courage that Virginia possessed to raise a little boy on her own while battling a disease that slowly sapped her ability to move.

I’ll find a place for that vase somewhere. It’s what my mother-in-law’s memory deserves.

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