Flea Markets, Cookies And A Blue Willow Plate

by April Brown Pulliam
Originally Published: 

I am not my mother. I am not. I am. I am my mother. It was last year, my 40th, when I realized that I truly had done the proverbial morph into my own mother. The ton of bricks that was my revelation hit at some point when I was standing in the middle of a flea market somewhere in West Tennessee. As quickly as it registered with me, I began to run through the laundry list of ways that I surely was not. Laundry…hold on. I have to add that to the list now too.

As I turned over a blue willow dinner plate in my hands and examined it for chips and cracks, I saw it all as clearly as if I had been smacked in the head by one of those low-hanging, beat-up washtubs above my head. Years of hearing my mother say, “What in the world do I need with another set of dishes?” as she carefully placed yet another stack of delicate saucers into our already bursting cabinets came flooding to mind. She and my grandmother both adored collecting dishes and would faithfully complain as they simultaneously plotted where to stow them away. Here I stood, blue willow in hand and hatching my own plot as to how I would wedge it onto the shelf full of mismatched Mikasa and Fiesta plates and faded plastic cups from Chuck E. Cheese’s joint. And like my mother, I bought it…and stowed it.

Following closely behind the memory of her love for a good dish came the realization that I, too, was spending an inordinately large chunk of my adult life antiquing. Growing up, I had walked aside my mother as she would ooh and ahh over Hoosier cabinets (see, I even knew the term without activating my Google powers), and all but squealed with delight at the vintage bars of Ivory soap and the way the light reflected off the bases of beveled kerosene lamps. Now look at me. Look where I was. I was spending the day in the mecca for vintage and flea market fodder, the backroads of West Tennessee.

The whirling dervish that is my mind began to spin. What were my own walls covered with? How much love did I have for a slightly dented tole-painted tray? Good grief, Charlie Brown! There wasn’t a new piece of Kirkland’s decor in my entire kitchen or living room. The last time I had actively sought a wall-hanging or metal sconce eluded me. And potpourri? Pffft! We, I mean I, hadn’t touched the stuff in years. Yes, I, too, had embraced antiquing. I had snapped it up, engaged it in a bear hug, and wasn’t letting loose for love nor money. Sigh…adding “love nor money” to my list. The list…she grows.

At some point in my jarring journey of self-discovery in the middle of the most cramped booth in the flea market, I saw my hands. No, I mean I really saw my hands. They are hers. It was like looking at my mother’s hands in motion as they wiped clean the supper table or folded towels in the La-Z-Boy after working all afternoon in the garden she shared with her own mother. Her hands, red with the heat of the dishwater or protectively cupped under the elbows of a wobbling toddler taking his first steps, were mine. I have her hands. From the tips of my long fingers, which are just the right length for a gal almost 6-feet tall, across the pronounced knuckles to the rather thin wrist that really hasn’t changed much since about the 10th grade. They were hers, and now they are mine.

As I said…whirling dervish. Plate led to hands, and hands led to baking, and baking led to cookies. My mother’s chocolate chip cookies were second to none. Now, I may not have acquired her knack for them, but my children beg for mine. By beg, I mean pleading at 9:30 p.m. on a school night after I have surmounted great obstacles with third grade, Common Core, and, quite possibly, one hurl and a nosebleed during a benchmark assessment. But, I digress. (And, my apologies for the hurling reference in the same paragraph as the cookies.)

They beg, I say. My mother comes out in me when I do it. At 9:30. On a school night. There is no denying it. I am my mother. Sliding those cookies, warm and gooey, off that AirBake sheet onto the waiting wax paper and knowing I have made two kids’ hearts sing even for a few minutes is completely worth falling into bed with the smell of brown sugar and chocolate lingering throughout the house and a pile of dirty utensils left for the next day in the kitchen sink. That’s why she did it. The cookies. The tuna noodle casserole (my favorite). The cheesecake. She did it for my sister and me, and now I am her, tired but happy, doing it for my own.

So, as I handed over the blue willow plate to the lady behind the cluttered desk, I sighed a little sigh. I watched my mother’s hand take the paper bag from the lady who probably also had her mother’s hands, and turned to leave. And what did I see? Yep. Right there in the first booth to the right was a Hoosier cabinet. How had I missed it? I sighed another little sigh, because…its curves and lines and, oh, the color…I was as happy as a lark. Lark…lark…where did I put that list again?

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