A small rectangular plaque hangs in my kitchen. It is made of wood, with an off-white front and black writing and was willed to me by my paternal grandmother. On the front is the 1859 poem written by Elizabeth Cheney, “Overheard in an Orchard.” Perhaps the first poem I ever read, except for In Flanders Fields, I had never read this poem anywhere else besides in my grandma’s kitchen.
My grandma, who’s name was Stella, had the plaque hung on the side wall above the stove in their apartment. I used to read it when we were staying over, or were over for dinner with my mom and dad. The kitchen always smelled good, vegetables boiled on the stove and my grandma would have baked scones cut in triangle shapes in the bun warmer on the stove. The warmer had a lid with a handle you could turn around, to expose the holes, which let out the steam from the scones. It’s lid had a design of a silhouette image, like a lady gardening, or picking something up.
I can remember one evening when my grandma stirred things on the stove, and I stood by and commented quite bluntly that I liked the plaque, indicating that I would like it when she didn’t want it anymore. I might as well have asked her to leave it to me when she died, considering how subtle I was. She agreed. After that, neither of us said anything more about it, then some years later it ended up being willed to me.
I can remember too, sometimes my grandma would make luncheon winner – made with tuna and cream of mushroom soup and onions. You cooked the onions, then added the tuna and soup, then made toast and poured the hot sauce all over it. My grandma said once she had one of our cousins over for lunch and he had eaten 6 pieces of luncheon winner, and she couldn’t believe it.
I wasn’t religious. The poem told about two birds, a robin and a swallow, the later who said the humans were hurrying around because they didn’t have a ‘Heavenly Father’ to look after them. Sometimes I used to sit in the loveseat at my grandma’s apartment and think about the conversation between the animals. I liked the poem because the animals talked to each other. The animals had a god, and they were alright. I was at home within the bird’s perspective.
I wondered why it seemed to be the robin asking all the questions, and the sparrow was the smart one answering them all. Why did Elizabeth, in 1859, decide that the sparrow would be the smart one? Why did she choose a robin and a sparrow, instead of say, a finch and a wren? Wrens are quite noisy – I can see they might have a lot of questions.
But I liked the way the swallow addressed the robin as “friend” in his answer, I thought this was quite civilized of the swallow, and was convinced they must be friends.
I miss having grandparents, and one of the reasons I hung up the plaque, with a couple of other prints that I inherited, that I remember seeing at my grandparents, was that it was an attempt to make my apartment seem more like a home, instead of somewhere where I slept and watched tv. It also made me feel closer to them in a way, and brought me back to a time where I had the normal crises of childhood, but family surrounded me.
The plaque hangs just around the corner from my stove on a narrow space of wall. I am not sure if I am doing the plaque justice. I can’t remember where my grandma got it from, for sure – but I think she may have been given it in Sunday School. She must have liked the poem for it to be hanging on her wall, but I wish I knew her reason for why she liked it, but I can’t remember ever asking her. But she had lived a whole lifetime already when I liked her plaque, and she had probably gone to church plenty of times, and even though they had sold their house a few years back, their apartment was a home where grandchildren visited, and there were memories from 20, 40, 50 years ago in the cupboards and hung on the wall.
I don’t go to church, and I haven’t for a long time. The last time was in England when Princess Di and Mother Theresa died almost simultaneously, and I thought I better go to church because the world was falling to pieces. I remember the air that day was quiet and depressed, as if England had lost a major football tournament. I may no longer have my grandma, but I have the plaque on the wall that she had on her wall, I have the memory of the moment when I asked her for it, and all the memories of the times in their apartment, time spent with my grandparents, moments tied into the reading of the poem and the waiting for dinner, hanging around the stove, watching my grandma boil things and keep the scones warm.
This is a work of creative nonfiction; it contains no composite characters and no names have been changed. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story.