In my grandparents’ dining room, there was a large credenza with a china cabinet on top. Among the dishes, platters and espresso sets, sat two china mugs. Italian mugs are smaller than their American counterparts, more like the size of our coffee cups.
I don’t know where they came from or when, but these mugs were special. They were officially my brother’s and mine. Both were white porcelain. His had a little boy holding a stick and chasing geese. Mine was decorated with a little dark-haired girl spoon-feeding a stuffed bear under the watchful eyes of a doll. We weren’t allowed to touch them because they had a specific purpose¾they were our “feel good” mugs.
Whenever we were sick, whether it was a cold, the mumps or even chicken pox, down came our mug to be filled with rich broth or warm milk, whatever my grandma prescribed for what ailed us. We grew up and moved away, but our feel good cups were always there when we visited the stone house. During one of the visits after my grandmother passed, I noticed my brother’s cup wasn’t where it belonged in the china cabinet.
“Nonno,” I asked my grandfather, “what happened to my brother’s cup?”
“I gave it to him to keep in his own home, so when I die, there will be no squabbles about who gets what.”
My grandfather was in his nineties when one September I traveled home to help him celebrate his next birthday. Other relatives had also decided to make the trip. It was a wonderful reunion. Our grandmother was sorely missed, but otherwise it was a nearly perfect gathering.
The weather was great, warm and golden, the last hurrah of summer before October’s foggy days set in. Grandpa and I went for long walks together. We even strolled through the weekly Friday mercato just like when I was a kid. We sat up and talked into the wee hours of the morning. I loved my grandfather with all my heart.
“You know,” he said to me. “I would love to be a fly on the wall of this house after I’m dead.”
“Just to see who will grab what. That’s when you can tell those who are sincere in their feelings from those who are just greedy.”
“Well, you wouldn’t see me for sure. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. That’s why I think you should pick what you want, and take it right now. You have my blessing.”
My eyes went straight to my feel good cup, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. “It would feel like accepting your death or something. Let’s not talk about it, okay?”
The wonderful vacation came to an end and I flew home. Tears came to my eyes when I unpacked my suitcase to find my feel good cup wrapped inside a linen towel that belonged to my grandmother. My grandfather managed to sneak it into my suitcase without my knowledge.
Nonno passed away in his sleep three weeks later.
This is the picture of my feel good cup, just as cherished and precious today as it was many years ago. There aren’t any little girls in our household yet, but I’m taking very good care of the magic cup. You never know when it will come in handy.