I nearly cried the day I placed it in the dishwasher, felt the impact, and heard it crack. Mama's cake plate. The large, round glass plate on which she served all of our birthday cakes.
Crack! I closed my eyes for a minute; it felt like I had just broken a bone. "No, no, no, no! Shit!" But as I pulled it out, there was the proof: a big triangular chunk was missing, and a hairline crack traveled halfway up the plate.
It took a moment to memorialize it, to really see it again. It had a swirl etched into the underside, and a clear, round circle in the center. It's in so many of our family photos: my siblings holding it up in front of them, pretending to eat the whole cake, or the one of me at two years old, on Mama's lap, giddy at the sight of candles glowing on a white cake. Throwing it into the recycling bin broke my heart. I had literally destroyed a relic from my childhood.
Mama's things became sacred to me after she died. I think this is normal when you lose a parent at a young age, but as my emotional attachment to the objects she left behind waned over the years, the few that I kept held extra importance. The cake plate was one of those items. How many years had she handled it carefully? Twenty years? Thirty? It was scratched, but never chipped. And in one careless swoop, I had managed to erase a family ritual and the handful of memories I had left.
I had even invented a narrative around the cake plate. I imagined she's received it as a wedding gift. Crystal, I thought, from some expensive department store, circa 1943. I did a good job beating myself up about this for months. You broke Mama's cake plate. How could you be so careless?
And then, one day, while dreamily cruising on Etsy, I saw one just like it, and I froze. Wait! There was one exactly like it for sale? And only $25? I clicked on the familiar image and found out it was depression glass from a company called Federal Glass, and down the rabbit hole I went.
What I discovered proved to me once again that I am a fiction writer, because my nostalgic guilt trip was far from factual. For starters, it wasn't a cake plate at all. Actually, it was part of a set, described as the "diana punch bowl and underplate," (hence the clear glass circle in the center of the plate where the bowl's base fit right in). Moreover, it was mass produced. Federal glass made this set for decades: literally thousands of them, and in every color, including gold, green, blue and pink.
Mama had either broken the punch bowl at some point and decided to use the plate for cakes by default, or just as likely, had bought it in the early 60's at a garage sale for $1.00, the price scribbled in ballpoint ink on a ragged piece of masking tape. She loved garage sales and was a master at bartering. "It never hurts to ask," she used to muse.
Rather than feel deflated, I had one of those lovely ghost moments, the kind you have when you are let in on a joke by a beloved deceased, and I heard her ask, "What color will you buy, Sweetheart?" I chose the clear glass one, of course. A classic. And four days later, it arrived in the mail, and I had a new one of my very own, just like that. It was almost as if I had never broken it at all.