A Grandmother’s Gift

By Sarojni Mehta-Lissak

On the summer solstice of 2005, I lost my 94-year-old maternal grandmother, Evelyn Brunel Carr. She had slowly been slipping away from us for at least five years, and though we knew her passing was expected, when it hit – it hit hard. Since then, I have done many things to keep her memory alive, some private; others openly shared with my family.

During the time that my grandmother was still in her home, I visited her often and reveled in her humor and wisdom. She enjoyed telling stories and had a particular fondness for discussing food and cooking, often using animated body language to make her tales come alive.

When she reached her 80s, she began gifting me some of her favorite items from her kitchen. On one such occasion, she said to me with portent, “Here, Jeanne (my nickname). I want you to have these because I know you’ll use them. I don’t need them anymore.”

As if handing over the family baton, she bequeathed me a collection of Art Deco-inspired, Bauer cups. I graciously accepted them, though I knew her gesture was clearly a sign that she was coming to terms with aging – and her inevitable death.

For years, my sister and I enjoyed eating out of the cups when we had meals at our grandparents’ house. My grandmother – who was prone to spoiling – would fill the colorful, ringed Bauers with warming soups, place them on plates, then flank them with black olives, a small pile of potato chips and a pickle or two. Because she had an eye for detail, her presentation was esthetically pleasing and always stimulated a desire for second helpings.

“Can I get you more lovie?” she would say in her characteristic New England accent. I usually succumbed to her offerings with a smile and a nod.

When I first received the Bauer cups, I took them home and pushed them toward the back of my kitchen cupboard for no one to see, let alone use. What if someone wants to eat out of one? What if my favorite piece falls on the floor and breaks? How will I remember my grandmother if I don’t have any more Bauer ware left in my cupboard? These heirlooms, carefully concealed, kept her close to my heart.

Though I’ve always been a sensible person, I couldn’t shake the need to hide, store and never use the cups, which looked like small beehives painted in spring colors: yellow, pink, blue, moss green. For ages they sat in darkness, while adult fingers slipped around them in search of other items like common glass custard cups – easily replaceable if broken. Every now and then I’d check to make sure the Bauers were still properly positioned. I looked for any signs of foul play: fingerprints, a tilt in the stack, a color out of order. I was becoming obsessed with my grandmother’s gift.

Then came parenthood.

In 1995, my husband and I adopted our 9-month-old daughter from India. To our dismay, she arrived with a meager appetite and had little interest in food, and with this reality, I learned early on to serve her portions on small plates and in petite bowls. When she was a toddler, though I wanted to offer her tempting treats in Great Nana’s “fun” dishes, I couldn’t possibly put one of those Bauer cups in the path of my daughter’s groping hands. So I waited. And waited. And waited…until she was older.

Then, one day, I realized how foolish I had been to hoard my grandmother’s gift in the back of my kitchen cupboard for no one to enjoy. With misguided intention, I had wanted to preserve the pottery as a reminder of the woman who meant so much to me throughout my life. Yet instead, I had prevented myself from recalling fond memories and acknowledging her love in order to avoid inevitable pain. I was, in essence, suppressing the fact that my grandmother was getting very old and would soon be gone.

As I struggled with this nearing loss, I gave the okay to my husband and daughter – and to myself – to start using the Bauer cups. I would serve steaming lentil soup in the festive Ring Ware, just the right amount to make a light dinner.

I would give my daughter permission to use any of the cups for her breakfast cereal, which she does every morning to this day, choosing different hues for each mood.

A family ritual would also develop: We began to eat our ice cream in the Bauer cups. Two scoops – maybe three, if someone were sneaking. And always topped with fudge sauce, of course.

These little glazed gifts hold a place of prominence in my collection of dishes. Yes, a few chips have appeared over time, and secretly I do have a fear of breaking a treasured piece. But I know my grandmother would want me to use the set without any fuss; so this is what I now do whether I’m serving French vanilla ice cream or creamy carrot soup.

And when I hold my favorite cup, feeling the concentric rings against my palms, I think of the hands who once gave me the gift of Bauer Ware – as a family baton passed from one generation to the next in a grandmother’s gesture of love.

Easy Fudge Sauce

Makes 1 cup
1/2 cup, plus 2 T. half and half (or evaporated milk)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

In a small saucepan, heat half and half until just boiling. Remove from heat, add chocolate chips, cover with lid and let sit 3 minutes. Remove lid, add vanilla and whisk until smooth.

In Bauer cups, place 2 scoops vanilla ice cream. Top with fudge sauce and chopped walnuts.

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