Site moved to, redirecting in 2 seconds!

« Wear a paper dress | Main | Remember »

20 May 2006

Carry a small grape

From wonder into wonder existence opens.” – Lao Tzu

Garden_partyWhen my older daughter was just a porcelain-skinned baby with ringlet hair, I remember telling my friends Gay and Rosemary I loved Emma so deeply and totally that I actually imagined myself eating her up with a spoon sometimes. Literally.

True to form, Gay and Rosemary didn’t even so much as blink at the news that I was considering cannibalism; rather, they both said without hesitation, “oh, my, yes, I understand completely. Let’s all wear hats and sit in the garden and have some chocolate tortoni.”

[As an aside, you really do need a friend or two like that in the world. I do believe I could call them both, reveal that I had robbed 23 banks in Fort Dodge and Des Moines last week, taken several dozen Romanian truffle makers hostage, revolutionized butter manufacturing, was the love child of Johnny Unitas, had cured cancer while driving West on Route 40, and ate dinner in Paris last week with Johnny Depp or Billy Collins or Robert Duvall or Gene Hackman or Billy Collins (did I mention him already?), and they would simply ask if I wanted more hand-cranked lavender ice cream. Like the time I called Rosemary at work from Dulles Airport, moments away from boarding a flight. When she answered in her Official Work Voice, I didn’t even say hello. Instead, I said “I’m leaving for London in five minutes; I need you to write down the names and phone numbers of people to call in case the plane crashes into the icy ocean and I die a horrible and slow death.” She never hesitated for a moment. “Okay, I’ve got my pen,” she said quickly, “go ahead.” No questions asked, no hesitation; she still has that list.]

Now, almost fourteen years after that first hint of cannibalism arose, it’s back, now in the form of my younger daughter, Tess. Why are my children so irresistible to me? Perhaps it is my attraction to how they live their little lives in the world—open, true, real, flat out honest.

For two weeks now, Tess’ little almost-three-year-old self has been carrying around a small object with her, everywhere she goes. She sleeps with it under her pillow, takes it outside, places it on the swing and swings it, like a friend or a pet or a charm. When she can’t find it, she panics. It is the first thing she reaches for in the morning; it is the last thing she says goodnight to. It sits next to her in her carriage when we go for walks; it sits on the shelf near the tub when she takes a bath: it is her constant companion. It is her talisman, her good luck charm, her grounding. It is a Ziploc bag. Inside it, you won’t find a cute, fuzzy stuffed animal or favorite blankie or piece of jewelry; instead, you’ll find two small pieces of Hampton Inn hotel soap, the kind that makes you sneeze if you smell it when it’s dry, with those little sharp particles of soap scent that pierce your nose lining when they go too far up in there.

SoapOne soap is rectangular and flat; one is round. Each has the edges worn down, where Tess has held them. She touches them absentmindedly sometimes when we drive to the Cookie Store, her name for Ingle’s grocery store; at other times, they have her full attention. She plays with them and talks to them as they take rides on her Brio train set; the soaps are her constant companion, along with her grape.

A few weeks ago, Tess and I had a snack of grapes [red, seedless, organic, expensive], and she was quite delighted (shriekingly so) when she found a teeny tiny grape, an aberrant one, a miniscule grape in the bunch. “Lookeeeee!” she screamed, running through the house naked with her teeny tiny grape held high. “Lookeeee! Awwww, it’s a teeny tiny cute weency bitty grape!” she said in a little, high voice, her head cocked to the side, smiling, her shoulders pulled up as if to envelope her neck. “Isn’t it sweeeeet?” she asked, holding it gently with two tiny fingers an inch from my nose. “It’s very fragile,” she informed me.

Like the soap, her grape goes everywhere with her. She took the plastic top off an empty bottle of bubbles and made a grape bed inside the lid with toilet paper, gently placing little grape on it. Over the weeks since, eeny bitty cute weency teeny grape shrank even more. Now microscopic, he still lives on that little bottle top bed, carried like native royalty from room to room with her, a loyalty rare in this throw-away world, indeed.

{By the way, I would love to be able to illustrate this essay with photographs of her precious objects, were it not for the fact that , in a fit of sheer holy unbridled terror creativity, a petulant spirited young toddler in my house flung my digital camera to the ground, killing it.}

Tess loves tiny boxes, too, just like me. She carries her “monies” around with her in a hotel shower cap box—dimes and pennies and nickels that she deposits around the house, “counts” repeatedly, and then packs back up into the small box, its flaps wearing thin with the constant opening and closing, opening and closing.

Figurine_lionShe comes by this fascination with small things honestly. Or perhaps all children do, finding things in their world that fit them, those wee hands with the dimpled joints, things that give them wonder and joy, that they can create whole worlds in; do we lose that ability or attention as we grow bigger? Tess’ big sister Emma, “Sissy” as she calls her, started her collection of fragile objects when she was a small girl Tess’ age, now housed years later on a special “fragile shelf” that her Dad made for her. Small china dolls, the entire cast of the Simpsons in French porcelain figurines no bigger than a fingernail, a crystal leopard and tiny glass bird, and much more—all small, all fragile, all cherished.

When Emma was Tess’ age, we spent our Thanksgivings in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, with John’s grandmother, Nana. No matter what time we got there—sometimes in the middle of the night—Nana quietly padded to the front door and welcomed us all with open arms and pirogies fried in a vat of butter. Almost as wide as tall, she was a New Englander through and through—a no-nonsense woman who had lived a long time.

Heart_boxAs the mother of any toddler can tell you, it is often nerve-racking to spend time in a grandmotherly house, with highly polished coffee tables on which beautiful porcelain candy dishes sit.

Very quietly one evening, I learned an important lesson from Nana. The fragile candy dish on the coffee table in Nana’s living room was like a siren song: Emma couldn’t keep her inexperienced, chubby little hands off of it. I kept moving it away from her, fearful that it was an heirloom—brought over from Poland, perhaps, the last memento of Nana’s parent’s life there. I was terrified that Emma might break it, crash the top back onto it too hard, crack it. Move it, watch it, admonish Emma.  Move it, watch it, admonish Emma. Move it, watch it, admonish Emma.

Finally, without a word, Nana leaned toward Emma and put the box directly in front of her, quietly teaching Emma how to slowly lift and replace the lid gently rather than taking the box from her. Teaching her to respect the beauty, not holding it from her. Showing her how to navigate fragility, not assuming she wasn’t capable. Recognizing which had the most value: a china box, or a great-granddaughter. It was a lovely, quiet moment, a real lesson for this new mother, for any human, really.

Years later, we took Emma to her first auction. John was bidding on Something Important; Emma was intrigued, her ten-year-old mind racing with the possibilities. As her Dad surveyed the lots, Emma followed along, her eye falling to a cardboard box with an odd assortment of china and porcelain object—Fragile Things for her Fragile Shelf! They were beautiful! Little miniature pitchers and eggs rimmed with flaking gold paint. She was mesmerized by the glory of it all, the very thought that she could be the owner of such a treasure, not knowing that they were odds and ends, probably not of interest to others; she saw only possibility and joy, a bonanza of the highest sort.

As the auction started, John got what he had come for. We waited and waited and waited some more for Emma’s box to be auctioned off. People left, the crowd thinned. The little box of treasures wasn’t brought to the front until the very end, of course. When the large man walked to the front with the box, her Holy Grail, Emma froze. There was suddenly so very much at stake.

The auctioneer surveyed the meager contents of the box as an assistant subtly pointed out little Emma in the back of the room, a girl now gripped in total fear, a girl who had stood for hours to bid on this small gathering of objects. And so, the bidding started, his voice slowed down for her benefit: “who will give me five dollars for this treasure?” he asked. At the very hint of Emma raising her tiny arm, he yelled “SOLD TO THE LOVELY YOUNG LADY IN THE BACK FOR FIVE DOLLARS!” She was mortified, proud, delighted in the same instant; we appreciated his knowing.  And now, even in the land of her teenaged self, those small eggs still sit proudly on her fragile shelf, a reminder of that wonder, now slipping away with her impending adulthood. My job is to help her hold onto it and to hold onto it for myself, too.

~*~ 37 Days: Do it Now Challenge ~*~

Figurine_birdsBe thrilled by small things, fragile things, wee tiny things—carry them with you, honor and protect them, but don’t keep them from other people. Instead, teach them to close the lid softly. In a world in which the cardboard box has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, let’s learn from the children—they can sense the possibilities inherent in simple things: boxes, bars of Hampton Inn soap, a tiny grape, an egg rimmed in gold.

What is your touchstone, talisman, small wonder that you carry with you into the world? Mine is a tiny silver book containing a small brass scruple, a play on words, a tribute to writing with scruples, given me by John. Abe Lincoln’s was small scraps of press notices about minor contributions he had made in the world, not the big ones, found in his wallet when he was killed. What’s your grape?

Carry a small grape and hold it safe, keep it company, swing it on your tiny swing, sleep with it under your pillow. Let it remind you of finding wonder in the world, share it with others, even those who—like a toddler—need to learn to cherish it too.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Carry a small grape:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

i have hundreds of small things; the most precious of which is my small daughter of nine. together we have thousands of small things. of my innumerable colllections my favorite are the bird nests that I collect soon as they are deserted. my "grape" is the smallest of these; the tiniest, most perfect, most immaculate, most tightly woven, hummingbird's nest that (always) reminds me: small(er) is beautiful..

nina - what a lovely, lovely note - thank you. i love the image of your nests, your grape, your tiny. thanks for stopping by to leave that image with me!

Fabulous story...wonderful lessons.

I love hearing what Tess is doing. Thank you.
I carry a little harmony ball (a silver ball with bells inside) that my husband gave me for our first Christmas together. We had only been dating about two months at the time. Actually, the ball I carry is a replacement for that original ball, which went missing on a business trip when I was using a purse that immediately went into our porch-sale pile the moment it coughed up my treasure. The bells in the ball symbolize my husband's love for me. Your writing tells me I should show this ball to my almost-three-year-old sweetie-pie. For a while, she carried around a metal cup that once held an espresso portion, into which she placed her "little ballie," a ball that had come off a paddle-ball set.

My small thing is a little imaginary man my father implanted in my head as a kid. As the story went, this teeny, weeny little old man was doomed to roam the world all alone until someone cared enough to build him a tiny little house all his own. So we used to build little houses in the hollows of trees, making beds out of moss and furniture out of little twigs, hoping he'd find one to call home.

I keep the image of this little man in my head to remind me that anywhere there is caring, there is home. And that I can build anything I want with what I have, as long as I'm able to see things for what they can be as well as what they are.

What a beautiful, beautiful story. I don't have children but this is why part of me will always mourn that fact, I love how they live their little lives in our big world, their sense of wonder at the most ordinary small things. They are so little themselves yet so complete and whole already in their being.

My touchstone these days is my wedding ring. I rarely take it off and if I do I feel naked and exposed. I love how it it is round and infinite, embracing my finger like it's always belonged there. It is simple and plain and light, yet it symbolises something as strong and deep as the connection I feel with my husband.

My daughter,Jylene has been sending me your writings and I just signed up to recive them myself. I understand that you are a friend of my son Jef Davis. So now you can add another branch to the Davis family tree.....
which seems to be sprouting a lot lately!
Keep on writing, Janey Davis

I am always so enlightened and so blessed when I come here.
Thank you for sharing the wisdom and encouraging us to see beyond the immediate.


Thanks so much to everyone for these such beautiful images - they are a real gift. I've responded to each of you personally by email, but just wanted to offer a public thank you for taking the time to respond to this post with such evocative images and memories - thank you!

I love the wisdom of Nana of teaching how to treat he delicate things and the kind auctioneer. What is my grape? Good question. Nothing comes to mind on first glance.

I'm missing you terribly. Your writing lifts me, comforts me, inspires me... And I have to admit I'm worrying just a wee bit about you these days. I hope all is well... no, that it couldn't be better.
Much love,

I'm missing you terribly. Your writing lifts me, comforts me, inspires me... And I have to admit I'm worrying just a wee bit about you these days. I hope all is well... no, that it couldn't be better.
Much love,

I was riveted by your entire entry but started crying when you got to the auction story. Still am. I hope that is just the first of many beautiful things I experience today.

such lovely writing .....
in where the wild things are, one of the monster says to the little boy .... i could eat you up i love you so much ..... i always rumble that at my children as i take my nibbles ..... i have a piece of art that celebrates EXACTLY the small things you speak of in this post .... it is a wooden house filled with joyful this and thats .... and is called joy house ..... i collect doodads and treasures and have bins and bins and bins of them ..... forever collecting small things ..... and then sharing them in my art .....

I have a pair of porcelain babies barely two inches long that were part of a set of 6 at my great grandparents house. As far as monetary value goes they were quite worthless yet they were priceless to me. I too had great-grandparents that understood the value of people over things and that cultivated in me the love they had for beautiful things but more importantly the love they had for people. Those two tiny porcelain babies are a reminder of that always.

Sehr gute Seite. Ich habe es zu den Favoriten.

Thank you for making me smile. I have carried around a pecan - yes, a tiny little pecan - for almost a decade. Now, as the proud mother of a 20 month old little girl with a head full of ringlets (and deep thoughts), I am in total awe of the things that make her squeal with happiness. It sounds like it only gets better from here!

How beautiful! Just came here from amazon, where I read about your 'Life is a verb'.

Enjoyed this post very much. Will be visiting frequently!


The comments to this entry are closed.