Ellie called out, “Mom,” as she stepped inside her great-grandmother’s house, ready to do her part in helping pack things for G-Ma Delphina’s move to a nursing home.
“In the kitchen,” Vanessa called to her daughter.
Ellie found her mother, grandmother Maggie, and great-grandmother Delphina standing with their arms linked together as they stared into the china cabinet. Ellie walked over and stood beside them.
“What’s so fascinating?” she asked.
“Ellen’s cup.” Vanessa spoke with reverence. “You were named for her.”
“This cup?” Ellie asked, opening the cabinet.
“Be careful,” all three women said in unison as Ellie’s hand grasped the cup.
“What’s so special about it?” she asked, turning it over in her hand. It seemed an ordinary cup of fine bone china decorated with tiny leaves and blue-purple flowers, stamped Made in England. The gold trim along the rim had faded, but the fragile cup didn’t have a crack or chip anywhere.
Delphina’s hand gently covered the cup in Ellie’s hand. “My grandmother brought this set of dishes across oceans over a hundred years ago, then passed them to Mama. All the other cups in the set except this one were broken during Mama’s trip from Boston. It was in this cup she served coffee to my dad the first time they met.” Delphina’s eyes danced with merriment.
Ellie knew her great-great grandmother, Ellen, was a plain looking woman with unruly orange hair who never even had a suitor. Fearing she’d never marry, she traveled from Boston to Tucson in the late 1800’s to marry a man she had never met. That man, Deke, was shot in a drunken brawl only hours after the minister pronounced them husband and wife, leaving Ellen with nothing more than a rundown farm and the possessions she’d brought with her.
“So, why is this cup so special?” Ellie asked.
Delphina took the cup, cradling it against her bosom. “I need to sit down,” she said. Ellie pulled a chair from the table as the other two women helped Delphina be seated.
Blinking back tears, she continued. “Daddy thought the cup was magical, but Mama said it was just a reminder of the Lord’s goodness. When Mama served Daddy coffee that first time, he said he was afraid he’d break the cup with his big calloused hands. When Mama laughed, his heart fluttered.”
Delphina paused, placing the cup on the table. “Mama was twenty six and Daddy was twenty when she hired him to help get the farm in shape. Daddy fell in love with Mama’s eyes, said they were the color of the flowers on the cup. Mama told him the flowers were delphiniums. A year after they married, I was born. Daddy brought Mama tea in the cup, and she named me Delphina after the flower, said the cup brought them together.”
Her thin, gnarled fingers caressed the cup as she chuckled. “Daddy said that Deke was an ornery cuss and God spared Mama from the likes of him. The only good thing to come from Deke was the farm. I was three years old when the fire happened. Mama and Daddy were at church one Sunday, and by the time they got home, it was too late. When they went through the rubble, this cup was one of the few things that survived. Mama cried, said that’s what gave them the courage and hope to rebuild.”
Silence fell over the four women as each became lost in their own thoughts. Delphina broke the silence, saying, “Maggie, I think I’d like to drink some tea from Mama’s cup before we leave.”
As Maggie got up to brew tea, Ellie reached over and touched Delphina’s wrist. “G-Ma, please finish the story.”
“Well, after the fire Mama only used the cup for special occasions, birthdays and such, until Robert’s fifth birthday. Mama poured milk in the cup after serving cake and we were singing Happy Birthday when Robert flung out his arm, knocking the cup off the table. In a blink, Daddy’s hand shot out, grabbing the cup before it hit the floor. Mama called it a miracle, especially since Daddy couldn’t even remember grabbing for it. Now it’s all that’s left of the set. If it could talk, the memories this cup would share.”
Ellie leaned over, patted her great-grandmother’s hand, kissing her cheek. Taking Ellie’s hand, Delphina whispered, “I want you to have it.”
Today, if you walk in Ellie’s home, the cup, Ellie’s most cherished possession, is prominently displayed.
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