A Spoonful of Memories

By Monica A. Andermann

A Spoonful of Memories

I peered out of the door that leads from our kitchen to the backyard. Lately, my husband, Bill, and I had been contemplating a move, an upgrade, to a home with more living space and a larger yard. A yard. I think that will always be the part of home ownership I love the most, having my own little spot on which to stand barefoot, feel the sun and cultivate only to have the pleasure of gleaning later what rises from it.

My eyes wandered around our existing small plot of land, each corner containing handfuls of memories: the large fig bush started from a small twig snapped from my grandmother’s plant; the tiger lilies harvested from underneath the tall pine in my mother’s yard where we would sit and visit and sip tea and talk; the white and purple irises received from a dear friend as a housewarming gift along with a whole slew of much needed gardening tools; the garden patch, now winter bare, that had nourished our family with all manner of vegetables and herbs; the two pink azaleas received from yet another friend after my mother’s passing so that the memory of her would re-blossom along with them each spring. So many remembrances stood planted there. If I had to leave right now and take only one memento with me, I asked myself, which one piece of it all couldn’t I live without?

What to choose? It seemed like an impossible decision really, and probably one best left until our actual moving date. So I decided to defer further thought of it. Still, the question stuck to me like a burr.

Later that evening, out of the far recesses of my memory, I recalled a small wooden jewelry box that my mother owned. No larger than two decks of cards stacked atop one another, it was decorated with a delicate blaze of wildflowers painted across its lacquered top. I first found it when I was no older than five or six, as I poked around my mother’s top dresser drawer, the place where all her treasures were kept. Among the strands of costume jewelry pearls and half-used bottles of perfume it sat – the locked mystery box, its key lost long before. I turned the box over in my hand then shook it like a wrapped birthday present, all the while imagining what manner of wealth lie within. Whatever it was, it had to be tiny and mighty valuable at the same time, I decided. And whatever it was, I had to know. Right then.

I ran down the stairs to the kitchen to where my mother stood in front of the deep, white enamel sink peeling potatoes, the box held toward her in my outstretched hand. “What’s in here?”

She turned then stopped a moment, her vegetable peeler poised in mid-air, “Dirt.”

I looked at the box and then back up at my mother, “Dirt?”

Mom placed her vegetable peeler down then came closer. She tapped the box, “In here is one spoonful of dirt from my other home, the place where I lived as a little girl.”

From inside my mind came a confused, “Huh?” I thought that something so carefully locked away had to be really important, not just a useless spoon of dirt from some long ago, other place. My expression must have said it all. Mom knelt beside me on the yellow linoleum floor and began to explain. And within moments, I understood.

As I clutched the box, my mother told me of the place where she grew up, far away in Europe. She detailed her childhood home in dimensions that I could understand: an attic so large, she said, she could ride her bike in it. Mom took me from one room to the next and in my mind’s eye I could see where she sat to play the family’s piano, where the Christmas tree stood each December, and how the long, pine kitchen table was placed far enough from the wood burning stove so that no one would get stung by the errant sparks that sometimes flew from it. Then we went on a tour of her garden, a virtual farm by my standards: through the pear and apple trees that she climbed with her best friend Krista; behind the chicken coop where she chased her feisty fox terrier in tight, fast circles; to the place where when they were tired from the effort of it all, they rested on soft grass and looked into the vast sky to wonder what lie beyond.

Forced by the unfairness of war to leave her childhood home when she was in her late teens my mother told me how, in the last moments before closing the heavy steel gate behind her for one final time, she bent down and scooped one spoonful of dirt into a jewelry box so that she could hold on to those memories forever. They had sprung from that earth and lived still, first in the garden of my mother’s heart and now in mine.

I stood up from where I sat day-dreaming about that long ago conversation and walked to my back door to again survey what was held there. It was decided. Tomorrow I would buy a small wooden jewelry box that would hold a spoonful of dirt scooped from my yard right before I walked through my gate one final time. I, too, would hold the memories – and the ground – for my family. Just as my mother had.

About this writer

  • Monica A. Andermann Monica A. Andermann his both an avid gardener and a writer. More of her personal essays can be found in several Chicken Soup for the Soul and A Cup of Comfort collections with additional credits widely published both online and in a variety of print media.

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