Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Object of sentimental value

I am normally not attached to material objects. I have lost so many in the numerous moves that it's just as well to adopt a Moominish attitude: worldly possessions are merely a nuisance. Every now and then I wonder where this or that thing has gone, whether it was just thrown away as garbage, sold for a fortune at Sotheby's or is hidden away in somebody's cupboard. Yet there are some few objects from my childhood that I have very special feelings for. This sugar bowl has been in the family as long as I remember and far beyond. In fact, I have just noticed that there is a stamp on it that says 1883.The bowl was always filled with lump sugar, and there was a pair of tongs in case someone wanted half a lump. The bowl symbolises the stability of home for me, the centrepiece of the tea table around which family and friends would gather. (A Freudian would of course come with any number of interpretations, and a Jungian would add the albedo phase to it. Be my guest). 

When my granny died almost twenty years ago, my mother asked me whether I wanted anything in her memory. Sugar bowl, I said. Fine, said my mother, it's yours, but you will not be able to take it our of the country so let it stay here for a while. For many years I went back to Moscow, to what without granny wasn't my home anymore, and watched the sugar bowl in the centre of the tea table that wasn't any longer the centre of the world. Every time I'd say that I wanted to take the bowl with me, and every time my mother said, not yet. Then I stopped going to Moscow, and the sugar bowl became just one of those many lost objects that are of no value to anyone. Actually, I have no idea, it can be awfully valuable. 

After my mother died two months ago, my son, who is her sole heir, asked me whether I wanted anything from the house. Sugar bowl, I said. My sugar bowl. Yes, I know it's yours, he said, but you won't be able to take it out of the country. It will buzz in security. It sounded familiar so I dropped any further argument, but lo and behold! someone smuggled my sugar bowl from Russia to Sweden, and my dear daugher brought it from Sweden to me. Twenty years later, it is turly mine. 

The funny thing is that you'd think that with such a cherished object I would remember it well. Yet when I unwrapped it, I was shocked to see how much smaller it was than I had remembered. I can imagine that it might look large to me when I was a child, but I did see it repeatedly when I was grown-up, and yet the memory saved the image from childhood. I could also swear that the monogram was Russian BH, for Vera Nikolajeva, my grandfather's aunt. This was the mark on all our family silver. But it is actually Latin VR, which must be Victoria Reutersköld, who was my grandfather's grandmother. From her, the sugar bowl apparently went to her daughter Ernestina, my great-grandmother, who somehow managed to keep it through the wars and revolutions. 

The balance of the world is finally restored. The sugar bowl is once again in the middle of the tea table.


Jenny Schwartzberg said...

That's lovely. Thank you for sharing this story.

Anonymous said...

My mom, Tanya Bl/Br, forwarded me your story because she knew I would have a connection to it. You see, she has a very similar sugar bowl, her grandfather's, which is always in the middle of the kitchen table. When we sit there late at night when I visit her, it's between us, and to me it spells home.
It wasn't there in my childhood - my great-grandfather still had it. IN my parent's house in Moscow, it was a salt cellar - one of those Soviet nickel silver ones, three-legged, with a glass insert and a matching spoon. That was home for me. It didn't make it here. But once, at a friend's in San Francisco, I saw an identical one, and couldn't take my eyes off it. I went online and found one on Ebay! I ordered it and gave it to my parents. When I find myself there, between the salt in the cupboard and the sugar on the table, I am no longer displaced.

Thank you for the story!