“We must cement this memory with a mug shot!” said grandma every time we did anything considered ‘memorable’. I used to think her mugs were cool. I would watch with wide eyes as her wrinkled fingers brushed impossible strokes. It does still amaze me that painters can take something fluffy and create something so precise. A brush in my hands is a mess waiting to happen.


Just as memories come in all sorts of shades, grandma’s cups are a kaleidoscope of colors. Some recreate a scene while others are simply decorated with the color a particular memory invoked. A hilarious picnic turned into an explosion of green and yellow. The day a stray cat burst into our living room and left just as quickly was painted as a swirl of orange. A row of extra special mugs marked important events. Grandpa’s death cup is all black with specks of white. My parents’ image can be found on a mug from their wedding day. My first words are even etched on one tiny thimble.


The shape of the mug matters almost as much as its art. Grandma used to handmake those as well, but her hands can no longer spin the wheel with the strength needed. Grandma didn’t seem to mind going to stores for hours after that. She has always had a positive attitude about aging. It was another kind of adventure after all. I, however, missed the wheel.


But then I grew up. I don’t mean to say that I aged out of arts and crafts with my old grandma. I just learned of a truth that has changed my way of thinking forever.


As a teenager, the world got harder for me as a whole. I hated my family some days and wished for anything else. There is no surprise there. This is typical teenager stuff. I even threw a fit one day. It was a Friday. It was hot and humid out. The dishwasher broke in the evening. And I had lost my favorite pen. But the real kicker was that there was a party that my parents refused to let me go to. I remember all the details of that day. My argument with my dad. My mom crying. Slamming doors. It was intense. My grandma tried to help cool me down. She brought a mug into my room and was telling me the story of when she made a judgment mistake in her teens. It had ended with her in a jail cell for a night.


I had heard it a thousand times before. It was her crowning mistake as a youth that changed her life forever. The mug had bars on one side which turned into butterflies on the other. It was a beautiful cup. I hated it. I hated my parents for not understanding. I hated my grandma for thinking words could fix my heart. I hated that cup which mocked my youth. So I took it. And I threw it against the wall.


It broke. Of course, it broke. But what happened next could never have been expected. My grandma didn’t yell at me. She didn’t say a word. She just left.


A small part of me felt immense guilt that grew over the days. And it only made things worse that grandma acted as if nothing had ever happened. I hated the cold shoulder more than anything. I was good at it myself but did not enjoy taking it. So I confronted her and apologized. Sorries are not easy things for me and I got frustrated when grandma denied that any of her cups were broken. I just wanted it to be over. But when I brought her the broken mug pieces I had tried to re-glue, she only looked at it curiously. I pointed at the empty spot in her shelf and my grandma only shrugged and said she just hadn’t found anything worth putting there yet. I took the matter to my parents and they became concerned that I was losing my mind.


Was I losing my mind? No. I couldn’t believe that. Somehow. Magic. A metal trick. Or the longest joke ever put on me by my family. They had completely forgotten my grandmother’s biggest youth mistake. It was a memory that had changed her life. And it was gone. Grandma didn’t act any differently, but now whenever I look at that shelf of mugs, I can’t help but shiver. Those cups scare me like nothing else in the world. I tiptoe around them like they are atomic bombs. So yes, I cringe every time my grandma creates a new mug shot. For every memory made is the possibility that they will be lost. And nothing makes me more sad than that.


Photo by Eric Prouzet

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