It Doesn’t Matter
I broke it.
It was while I was looking after Mum at home, a few months before she went into a nursing home. She was sitting in her chair in our kitchen, watching as I took down, oh so carefully, each item from the two shelves Dad had put up years ago to store and display her good china. They were long past the need for a wash. I was always nervous doing this job, but it had to be done. And it was satisfying, and very pleasing for Mum, to see everything shiny and looking lovely once washed and put back.
I took my time. I had a system. Bottom shelf first. Cups, plates, dishes down and on the counter top. With the whole shelf cleared, I’d transfer these to the kitchen table, before starting on the top. A chair was needed for this, and nerves of steel. But I never overbalanced; I never dropped a thing. Next the two shelves came off. A good dusting and wipe down before being replaced. Now came the careful washing and drying of each delicate item in the sink. It was so easy to let something slip through soapy gloves. But, china piled up on the draining board, each thing washed and rinsed and waiting to be dried.
I was nearly there.
The thing I loved most on Mum’s shelves was her wedding tea set. It consisted of several sets of matching cup, saucer and plate, each with a different design. Some were of flowers, one of a cottage and a pretty garden, another of a spider’s web on a delicate pink background. There wasn’t room for everything on the shelves, so the saucers lived in a cupboard.
Dad had put in hooks on the top shelf for the cups to hang from, and a strip of wood across the bottom shelf for the plates to rest against so that they could be lined up under their respective cups. This wasn’t always possible as, unfortunately, we had lost a few of the cups or plates. They had, after all, travelled all the way from Australia in crates when we’d journeyed by train, ship and ferry to our new home here. It was a mercy more hadn’t been broken. I’d heard that many a time – how lucky Mum was that she hadn’t lost more. I was just drying the last few items when it happened. It was the plate with the cottage on it.
One minute I had it gripped in my tea-towelled hand, and the next… It fell slowly.
It fell so slowly, I thought I could catch it. It fell so slowly that, when it hit the draining board, I saw it whole and, for a split second, I thought I’d got away with it. After all, in all the times I’d performed this task, I’d never lost one of my mother’s precious plates. In my mind, this made the thing impossible, despite the laws of logic and nature that told me a collision of stainless steel and china had a pretty inevitable outcome.
Then it shattered. It broke into 5 pieces. I broke into many more.
You have to understand, this was a time in my life when I was trying my best to hold it all together. It wasn’t just my Mum, an 84-year-old with heart problems and Dementia. There was other stuff going on that made things almost unbearable at that time, stuff that I had to hide from Mum. I would do anything not to upset her. So, there always had to be a bright smile and cheery chit-chat. And there was – until I broke the plate. I suppose, when I broke it, something inside me broke too. I couldn’t help it. I just burst into tears.
She got up from her chair. She came over to me at the sink. She asked me what was wrong. I told her I’d broken the plate.
And, then, this mother of mine, who had always had a hard time showing her emotions, put her arms around my waist and told me it didn’t matter. I had broken her good china plate with the little cottage on it, the one that had survived the journey in the crate from Australia, all the years in the house, and all the times it had been taken down and washed and put back. But, it didn’t matter. For that short time, I had my mother back. She mothered me, and I cried like a child until her comforting dried my tears.
Now my mother’s in a nursing home, and I have the plate, still in its 5 pieces, in a drawer in my own place. Maybe I won’t glue it back together. My mother will never remember that plate now. And I’d rather remember how she comforted me the time I broke it.