My grandmothers coffee set

I inherited an old coffee set from my grandparents several years back. I always kept it in a closet, not being used. I never even washed them. Just stored them. I doubt it’s any sort of fancy, expensive coffee set. The value lies in the heritage. It’s made in Bavaria, Germany in what I suspect was the 1950s. It has light coloured flower decorations and “gold” around the edges. It is light of weight and it automatically makes you touch it very carefully. I say it’s my grandmothers because I am convinced she was the one cleaning it and taking care of it. Not my grandfather.

I recently moved in with my girlfriend, and obviously brought all my belongings. However, there’s almost no room for anything here so most of my books, items and memorabilia are packed away in boxes. I’ve touched upon this subject before.

I don’t know if it’s my daughter coming along that made me unpack my grandmothers coffee set or the deep desire to have something in this household that is mine. And so I brought it forward. My girlfriend wanted me to wash it before finding room for it – if there is room at all.

So I carefully unwrap the coffee cups and the plates from the newspaper wrapping and start to clean them. It dawns on me that these coffee cups have been held in my grandmothers hands so many times through the years. So many of my family members drinking from them. When looking at them, cleaning them – I was filled with a sense of deep nostalgia and a longing for my grandmother that died when I was barely into my teens. Longing for a time that is no more.

I remember times at my grandparents house, and especially extraordinary evenings when so many of my family on my mothers side were gathered together. Birthdays, jubilees, anniversaries. My grandparents had five daughters which made for relatively large gatherings of aunts, uncles and children of all ages.

I imagine my uncles and my father sitting in my grandparents living room only used for special occations drinking coffee from these cups and talking about society or politics. My grandfather pouring coffee into his cup, and slowly drinking the hot wonder liquid often not saying much. I pick up one cup and study it. I wonder how many people have touched it, been drinking from this very cup, and how many of them that are still alive. My grandfathers sibblings? Now all gone. My grandparents friends which I do not know the names of? How many? These cups have passed through the hands of so many people through so many decades.

I remember thetre was once a jubilee of some sor at my grandparents hosue. My mother and her siblings had composed a song to their parents. Most of them singing out of tune to my fathers rythm guitar. I remember buffets of cold cuts of food that evening. My older cousins laughing at me when I only went to pick up a piece of tomato from the lush table of food. I remember one of my uncles loud, but warm laugh between his soft southern accent – different from the rest of us. I remember looking up to one of my cousings about seven years older than me. I was very myuch influenced by his taste in music or interest in RC model cars. He was tall, cool and knew everything.

By simply touching the coffee cups I could almost hear my uncles and aunts talking, see my grandfather drinking his coffee and see myself as a child running around being asked silly auntie-type questions about school.

After everyone had gone home that evening,  I am sure my grandmother washed the dishes by hand. She had no dishwasher. It is a poignant feeling to know that she’s been touching and cleaning this coffee set through so many decades.

Now I was doing the same thing.

These days are long gone now. There are no more gatherings at my grandparents house. While most of the people involved are still alive, some are not and others are now at the very end of their lives. Time has moved on.

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My grandparents

In September, a baby girl will be born. I will be her daddy. My parents will finally be grandparents, and my grandparents will be great grandparents. If they had lived.

I guess it comes to most people when a new generation is born. Suddenly you start to look back to where this baby girl comes from, this fresh new human being. I finally understand why old people when I was a child studied my face and told my mother how I looked like so and so relative. Or how I looked like my dad but had the heart of my mother. It comes from perspective. It comes from understanding that life is finite and suddenly it’s all over and a new generation will take their place. And in those 100 years or so since my grandparents were born, everything have changed and nothing have changed at the same time.

I don’t even know when my fathers father (my grandfather) passed away. I think my father was 15 at the time. For me, it’s always been like this and I never dwelled on the fact he wasn’t around. It is only during these last years and months I have come to realise that this kind man never got to experience growing old. He would never see his grandchildren being born. He would never experience that day when my father got his private flying license and roared over our house in a Cessna 172. He would never see how much my father have accomplished. From five year long boat and car restorations, playing blues rock or attending air shows with his son. The story of my grandfather is nothing but a sobering tale of «what if’s», but I guess – like my father most likely have concluded – you can’t dwell on it. A life ended halfways and there’s nothing you can do about it. I never got to meet him, and at times like these, with a baby girl coming, it creates a certain grief I have not experienced before.

While my father have been resilient about everything, my grandmother was not. Her life spiralled out of control after he died. She would never recover, and would spend decades struggling with un-treated anxiety, periods of severe alcoholism, chain smoking and simply living a horrible life alone in an apartment 60 minutes away from my family by car. I guess that with my grandfather life ending so abrubtly, so did hers. But she had a choice, and she made poor decisions. She would neve really be a functioning grandmother, but my father always sheltered his children from her behaviour. I remember once when she would visit us and we would pick her up at the bus station. She came as planned, but obviously drunk. My father caught on at once, and told her to get out of the car and take the bus back where she came from. And that she did. It happened so quickly I never really understood what happened until I was a grown up. She died about five years ago, having lived a very unfullfilling and lonely life. A failed life. But she’s still my grandmother, and I miss her. I can even understand her. Life is sometimes just too hard to handle. She was the one that gave me the Christmas present I remember the most; a CD stereo system. She must have saved for months and months for it.

While my grandparents on side ran into hardship and even death, the other side lived a different life. A countryside life with many children and a heap of grandchildren. My mother was the fifth and last in line of girls. I guess my grandpa, in his early 40s then, wanted one last go at having a boy, and subsequently failed in the attempt. He had no education to speak of, but worked different jobs through life. Often when I worked nursing homes in the beginning of the 2000’s, old men that knew him often remembered  his height. He was quite short. Family to my grandpa was everything. He never travelled, he settled. Like most people in his generation did. Because they had no other choice. It doesn’t mean he didn’t have a good life. Family is the most important thing, and grandpa had that in a large scale. I grew up next door to my grandpa and grandma, but they were already growing old quickly when I just started growing up. I wasn’t even a teenager when my grandma developed alzheimers and I’m the only one of my sibblings that developed some sort of relationship with them. My grandpa sort of gave up his physical state in the early 90s and ended up in a chair in his home for the last six or seven years of his life depended on home nursing. In 1998 he died, and the last thing he did was call out for my grandma.

There’s something strange about my grandma though. When I think of her, I get a sense of love and care I can’t figure out. It’s been coming to me the past years. I have developed some sort of new bond to her even if she’s been gone since 1994. My grandma was a lot like my mother. With deep care and commitment she took care of her family and her grandchildren. She knew little about the world and it’s complexity. The whole world to her was the surrounding peaceful countryside. She was a real a product of her time. Simpler times. It’s indeed a wonderful place most people in the world can only dream to live in. When I was very young, I often played outside and I could smell that distinctive smell of the dinner she was making. Potatoes, brown sauce, Norwegian meatballs. A smell that is not often to be found today. And I know she cared deeply for me. Alzheimer destroyed her last five years on this planet. I can’t even imagine what she went through, knowing she would drift away somewhere else.

I have developed a new relationship with my grandma these past years. I have almost gotten to know her again. It is one of the most strange spiritual experiences I’ve had. I can’t figure out what it all means. It doesn’t matter what it is really. I just accept that it is. And if she’s somewhere around looking after her family still, I know she will be very excited and very proud that another generation will step into the world this September. Like all of them would be.