Putting on the Big Boots

Holding on to a chipped cup — and its story

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In the split second before the crash, a warning flashed through my brain. I am pretty sure I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the sound of breaking glass, but it was not the glass that broke. Yesterday morning when I opened my cupboard door, a juice glass tumbled from the top shelf. It took a nosedive directly to the counter below. Unfortunately, my just-poured mug of morning coffee took the hit.

The coffee did not even spill, but on the top edge of the mug a new white crater glared at me. Small pieces of pottery dotted the counter top and floor.

I honestly grieved over my chipped mug. This was not just any cup. It had been given to me several years ago by a dear friend. It was shiny yellow with a black rim, base and handle. All around the sides small, striped honey bees protruded, as if lovingly collecting pollen from the painted flowers. Yes, this cup was special, and I chose it on mornings when I wanted to think of this friend who passed away a few months ago. My emotions had evolved from sadness to peace when I reached for it. But seeing the hole on the rim broke my heart, for I did not want to part with this treasured reminder of someone dear.

Suddenly, my thoughts poured back twenty-five years ago to a different chipped cup. My mother’s. I was visiting for a couple days, and Mom put out her usual spreads for meals and between meal “snacks” several times a day. We used her gold-rimmed dishes because, of course, now I was company.

The first night, just before bed, I saw Mother reach for an old cup that she kept under the cupboard near the sink. It was an off-white ceramic cup, the squat, dime store variety. Its circle fingerhold was long gone, and there was a hairline crack next to the rough stump that remained on the side. A slight tea stain coated the inside, leaving a distinct line an inch below the rim. Mom placed her index finger over the inside edge while her thumb clenched under the broken handle. She poured in water, drank it and then placed the cup back in its place on the counter.

I frowned, wondering why our mother needed to use such a dilapidated old thing when she had plenty of nice cups in her cupboard. “Mom, why do you use that broken cup?” I asked. Her blue eyes met mine, but a small smile was her only reply. “I will buy you a nice new cup,” I offered.

She said that she didn’t need any more cups. Then she added, “I like to use this one.” At the time I thought she was simply trying to keep her others nice, to save them for company.

The bits of yellow, black and white pottery littering the kitchen counter drew me back to the present and the chipped mug I held in my hands. Though it is only a “thing,” it holds a story, a story of someone dear. Precious memories I want to keep. I wonder if Mom’s cup had a story in it, too. Did it remind her of her own mother in her growing up years? Or her sister she had lost far too soon? Had Mom used the same cup when she and her husband of 52 years enjoyed tea together? Was it a gentle reminder of leaner times and how blessed she felt for all the wonderful things she had? Did using it somehow bring her comfort and peace?

Finally, I placed my yellow chipped honeybee mug back on the cupboard shelf. I will choose it when I want to remember my friend. I will treasure the memories. The broken mug has a story. Most likely Mom’s old chipped cup had a story in it, too. It only took me 25 years, a crashing glass and my own chipped cup to figure it out.

Kruempel’s newest book release, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, as well as her 5-book series, Promises to Keep, are available on Amazon.com. Once Upon a Midwest Sunset (an excellent gift) is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which was published in five newspapers in 2020-21. Contact her at deannkruempelauthor@gmail.com and receive free stories, recipes, photos and updates

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