Reading the Label

Image by Lyssa Medana

My grandmother’s funeral was three years ago, but I still missed her. We were very close. Mum and dad had been caught up in their careers and while that meant I went home to a lovely, large house with every comfort, I spent more time with Gran.

Gran was as driven as my parents. You did not dawdle around or dither. You decided what you wanted to happen and then went out and happened. She had given up work the week before my mother was born, and was soon on every school board and committee in the area. As a result, she knew everyone, she knew their parents and she knew what they had been up to behind the supermarket. She was a force of nature.

And that is how I came to spend most of my Saturday mornings at The Grange. It had been the old vicarage, and the last vicar to use the big house had bequeathed his collections to the parish as an educational facility. For a few years it had taken off. People donated fossils and relics found on travels. There were unnaturally posed stuffed animals donated by a bankrupt taxidermist. A few Roman coins, an alleged Neolithic axe and a selection of postcards filled up other cases.

But now The Grange was closing amidst council cuts and restructuring, and the donors were being contacted to claim the dusty contents before the council disposed of the leavings.

Gran had donated the pieces of Goss china inadvertently won at the Dutch auction in aid of the local donkey sanctuary, only at the suggestion of the curator. Poor Vicky did her best, and she was trying to get a china exhibit together to fit around the miscellaneous donations. I remembered Gran writing the labels as she commented with acid precision on ‘museum quality’ china and cheap knickknacks and why someone styling themselves a curator should know the difference. I had been around five years old and I perched on the chair next to her, swinging my legs, as she wrote label after label in her immaculate copperplate for fake Spode, dubious Wedgewood and what she dismissed as cheap fairings.

The back room had a forlorn look. “You’ve come for your Grandmother’s donation?” Vicky managed a tired smile.

“Sort of.” I said. “You know what Gran was like.”

Vicky’s eyes flashed for a moment with the shell-shocked gaze of someone who had tried to manage Gran. “I remember. Anyway, here’s your little cache.”

For a moment my throat closed over as a wave of longing for my Gran. She would have organised this a lot better, I thought, and would have had a lot to say. I swallowed, managed a smile, and rummaged in my bag. “I know what she would have wanted.” I said, my voice husky, and snipped off the labels. Blinking back tears, I hurried out of there, clutching the labels and leaving the china behind.

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