“Now where in the world did you find these?” My father-in-law asked as he passed the small dessert plates. “This is identical to the china my great-grandma served us with as children.” These are the remarks that remind me the ten cent plates I picked up at thrift stores have history. Artifacts of another life. They were once in another woman’s kitchen sink, testaments of family dinner or treats for the grandchildren. The embossed details, color palette, and designs, eternally imprinted into the minds of those who were served. My grandmother always used glass mugs to serve tea or cappuccino. It didn’t matter if you were her age, or 3 years old- she broke out the Princess House. Disposable just doesn’t cut it.
Admittedly, I am a borderline hoarder of all things china and wooden chairs. But let me take you back to where it all began; my grandmother, Niva Coblentz. She was not your average Amish woman. Yes. She worked hard, had so. many. flower beds, could cook up a storm, and birthed 7 children. But her hobby was people, antiques and auctions. I can still hear her rich Dutch voice, ringing with excitement, “vella douba schafa es ma faut gey kenna!” (let’s quickly work so we can go places) English people loved her. She had friends from all over the world. I distinctly remember the first time Mom for some unknown reason, allowed me to join her, along with a group of quilting ladies from Germany on an excursion. But low, there was not a single empty seat in the minivan. “There’s plenty of room!” Grandma calmly stated as she wedged a small wooden footstool between the driver and passenger seat. Not lie-this is where I sat the rest of the day. And many trips to follow. While still on the farm my grandparents hosted busloads of high school field trips for city kids. Teenagers who saw cows for the first time, heard a chicken squawk, and inhaled all the butter-laden Amish foods. I love listening to my mother and siblings reminisce of the guests they hosted growing up: exchange students from Lebanon, the college girl from New York who stayed for a month, Peter from Germany… the stories are endless. Granted, I would hesitate to do this today, but this was Niva; all are welcome, there are no strangers or “too many people.”
As a teenager, after mowing the lawn or helping with the evening chores, she’d welcome me inside with a glass of cold water. Occasionally she would take me to her walk-in closet and swing open the door. I can still smell the cedar with a hint of dust. The late afternoon sunshine would flood the white shelves filled with glass hens, crocks, framed wall art and so much more. Antique heaven. Some days she’d give me a category I could choose from as that day’s wages. I can’t remember the chore, but one glorious day she said, “you can have anything in this room.” At the bottom of a pile of framed photos, I found an illustrated print of the Lord’s Prayer. I knew this was it. The wide frame detailed with beautiful silver and gold metal details. Somehow I got it home on the four-wheeler, and today it still hangs in my house.
I was 18 years old when she left us. Ten years later I still miss her whenever I walk into an antique store. Or find a set of dishes at an auction for a dollar. I wish my son Max or little brother Jesse could experience her coffee break- just one time. I long to tell her about the milestones of the past decade. But I’m thankful. Thankful the strokes and heart attacks, despite stealing her life, gave us time to say goodbye. Gave us days to sing around her bedside. Gave us hours to tell her our favorite memories and love on her.
So this is for you, Grandma, honoring your legacy of vivacious living. I long to make people feel the way you made them feel and hope to have your arms of love toward people vastly different than me. As I organize props in my studio- I giggle, knowing you would be so proud of me for finding a way to make auctions and antiques “my job.”