Decades ago, my parents sold my childhood home in New Jersey. Between contract and closing, they held a garage sale to shed their burden of packing their history, and mine. There were many things on the front lawn I wanted to keep, but Dr. SJ and I were just starting out in our lives as grown-ups, and had no place to put them. She was adamant that I had to let it go.
I’ve had regrets. I regretted not taking my father’s World War II uniforms, for example. HIs field jacket. His Eisenhower jacket. His boots and caps. And then there were the fish plates. My great grandmother, Grandma Oliner, left them to my mother, a complete set of antique fish plates. Each plate bore the painted image of a different fish. It’s not that I cared or knew much about fish. I was not a big fish guy, whether to catch them or eat them. But the plates were magnificent.
Yet, Dr. SJ insisted that we leave them behind, to be bought by any random person with loose change in their pocket. After all, where we would put them? What would we do with them?
Over the years, we’ve run across fish plates in antique stores. Rarely in a complete set. Often just a plate here, a plate there. But me, being me, would point to them and, in my best official stentorian voice, make sure Dr. SJ would see them. “Ah, there’s a beautiful fish plate. We could have had fish plates. We could have had my great grandmother’s fish plates. But you said no.”
Dr. SJ, being used to my antics, would shrug. It was done. It could not be undone. That’s life.
Dr. SJ has taken a few very well-earned days to recharge in the sunlight of Florida. She was reluctant to go, as she didn’t want to be away for my birthday, but her window of opportunity to get away was limited, and I insisted she go. It’s just not a big deal.
This morning, I awoke as I always do and went to make my pot of coffee. In front of the machine was a box. Even a thousand miles away, she remains omnipresent in my life. I opened the box to find wads of packing paper protecting its as yet undetermined contents. Then I saw what she did.
It’s been more than 35 years since I last saw Grandma Oliner’s fish plates. Whether these are the same, I can’t say. Nor does it matter. These are fish plates. These are the plates I regretted leaving behind so many years ago. They aren’t the ones Grandma Oliner left as a legacy, but they are the plates I smugly pointed out to Dr. SJ so many times over the years.
Over those years, I’ve come to like fish better than I did as a young man, though it’s rarely a dish I would order over a good steak. Maybe there were ten times over the years that we would have pulled out the fish plates for a dinner party. Probably fewer.
It’s unclear that we will ever use these fish plates. For all I know, they’re not even safe to use. And we have three other sets of china that we’ve accumulated over the years, which mostly lie fallow in the cabinet. We don’t do as many dinner parties these days as we once did.
But the plates aren’t really for eating. Not even for display. They’re plates to let me know that Dr. SJ, who was absolutely right about our having no place to store Grandma Oliner’s fish plates 35 years ago, and no real use for them since, is thinking of me. You should be so lucky.
Stop yer carping.