Tree Stars and Wooden Spoons: The Value of a Memory

Today my paternal grandmother would’ve been 76. It’s been one year and just over two months since she died. This is the second time my family has celebrated her birthday without her there.

My grandma is never far from my mind. Lots of things remind me of her. Lots of things make me wish she were still around. And a select few things make me think, I’m glad Grandma’s not here to see this.

But I’ve especially been thinking about her lately and, more specifically, why certain material items have more value now that she is gone. It pains me a little bit to think that certain things I’ve touched, owned, used, put my mark on, etc., won’t be valuable to anyone until after I’ve died – and that the only reason they will be valuable will be because I’m dead. And this isn’t specific to me. It’s a common trend. It is the reason Emily Dickinson is famous. (And anybody who knows me knows that I hate Emily Dickinson, partly because of this.) It is the reason anything used or owned or touched by Michael Jackson (or any other dead celebrity) is worth so much money.

As this relates to me specifically (and my grandma), my most prized possession since she died has been a wooden spoon that she left to me.

When I was 12 years old, I was baking brownies with my grandma in her kitchen. We were making them from a box, not from scratch. (For shame! My mother taught me always to make brownies and chocolate chip cookies from scratch.) Anyway, I had all the ingredients poured into the bowl, and they were ready to be mixed. I asked my grandma for a mixer, and she clucked her tongue at me like I’d asked for something inappropriate. “You think your grandmother uses a mixer?!” she said with offense I was unable to identify as feigned or legitimate. I remember thinking, You use box brownies but not a mixer?

Anyway, as I stood there perplexed, she went to a drawer and pulled out a wooden spoon. She held it out for me to take, but when I reached for it, she yanked it back and said, “Now this isn’t just any wooden spoon. This is the best wooden spoon you will ever use in your whole life. Are you ready?”

Then she let me take it, and we counted together as I stirred the 540 strokes the box recommended. As I stirred, I told her, “Wow, Grandma, this is the best wooden spoon ever!” Then, like the impertinent 12-year-old that I was, I asked her if I could have the spoon when she died.

Luckily, instead of being offended, she laughed and said, “Of course!” Then she took a knife and lightly carved my initials into handle on the back of the spoon, just in case anyone tried to deny me my inheritance.

Fourteen years later, a few days before she died, she heartbreakingly told my parents, “Tell Audra to go get her spoon.”

I did get that spoon, and I’ve used it a few times since then. I’ve carried on her legacy the best I can by telling everyone it’s the best wooden spoon in the world. But nobody else gets it. And, even for me, the magic of using the best wooden spoon ever has evaporated. The allure that spoon held for me was not in its superior wooden-spoon properties. Instead, the joy I got from using it came from the bond it formed between my grandmother and me – a bond that is broken, now that she isn’t here to count with me when I mix up brownies or cookies.

Last summer, I threw a birthday party for a friend and began to make some cookies while everyone was there. My friend Wes volunteered to do the mixing, and he was using that spoon. The dough got thick and tough to stir by hand, and he mentioned that the spoon might break. I said, “It better not. That spoon was my grandma’s, and she left it to me when she died.”

He joked, “What if it did break? What would you do?”

I said, “I would cry. That’s not funny.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, the spoon snapped in his hand, and I stood there in disbelief for a couple of seconds before I actually did start crying.

Poor Wes. He felt horrible. And I felt bad for making him feel horrible. But I had so many emotions tied to that spoon, and the tears came before I could think about it.

Everyone else at the party tried to console me, saying the spoon could be glued back together, etc., etc. And they took it home with the intent to do just that. Four months later, I got the spoon back, glued together and a little worse for the wear but still functional. A week ago, I was using it to stir something on the stove, and it broke in my own hand.

I didn’t cry that time. I simply rinsed off the pieces and put them on the back of the sink. And that’s where the two pieces have been sitting ever since. And every time I see them I think of her.

I’ve decided not to glue them back together this time. The spoon is not what’s important anyway. My memory of using the spoon with my grandma is what’s important. Using it without her hasn’t been half as fun. And, now that it sits on the sink, in plain sight all the time, I remember her more often than I did when it merely sat in a drawer, hidden from view, waiting to be used.

I was watching one of my favorite movies from childhood last week, The Land Before Time. I watched this movie so often as a kid that I can quote it pretty well even to this day. I absolutely loved that movie, and I still love it, probably just as much. In the movie, Littlefoot’s mother gives him what she calls a “tree star” and says it is very special. Littlefoot holds onto it but does not come to revere it until after his mother dies. Only after her death does the tree star become Littlefoot’s most valuable possession.

What I didn’t understand when I was a kid – and only realized a week ago, after watching this movie again for the first time in however many years – is that the tree star is nothing more than a leaf. Food, to a brontosaurus (what Littlefoot is). When Littlefoot’s mother gives it to him, it is special only because food in the land is scarce. But in the Great Valley, where all the dinosaurs are headed, there are more tree stars than anyone can count, and they will not be viewed by anyone as anything other than nourishment – certainly not as a special gift to be guarded and cared for and not torn, as Littlefoot treats it.

But Littlefoot’s tree star is special because it is the last thing his mother gives him before she dies. And from said principle I derived the value of my grandmother’s wooden spoon.

I understand this logic. But it’s also sad to me that material possessions become so valuable to us after someone dies. Materialism is frowned upon in many circles, except when it has to do with someone who has died. Then, by all means, be as materialistic as you want, is the general message.

But I have found that there truly is no value in these physical objects. I don’t need that spoon, and Littlefoot doesn’t need the tree star (as we find out when Sharptooth finds the ragtag gang of dinos and stomps the tree star into tiny pieces in a scene near the end). The true value is in our memories, and while some material objects may serve to remind us of certain and precious memories from time to time, we really need to look no further than our hearts in order to remember fondly.

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2 Comments

Filed under bloggy, sentimental

2 responses to “Tree Stars and Wooden Spoons: The Value of a Memory

  1. Shirley Marvin

    Wow! Very well written! It took me a while to read this because I kept crying and could not see the words on the screen. Thank you for writing something so beautiful and sharing it with all of us as we remember her so fondly on February 1.

  2. b longfellow

    Thanks for a beautifully told story and a chance for your readers to relive a few memories of their own. I have several prized possessions that belonged to deceased family members: a fedora of Grandpa’s, a quilt Grandmother made, a pocket knife of Grandpappy’s. I even have a couple jackets made for my father when he was younger and in the navy (no, he’s not dead yet). All these things I’m delighted to possess, but somehow it’s my pride of these connections that gets my attention when I use them, and I like to tell people where these things came from.

    I’m sure this isn’t a bad thing, but this piece reminds me I should spend time seeking out memories of these important people in my life when I’m in contact with these things that have become “mine,” instead of only thinking, Wow, this used to be grandpa’s. Amazing, our heads are about the same size. He always seemed much bigger . . .

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