Life Through a Mason Jar

Everything had been picked over. Or claimed. Like birds had pecked at the flesh and picked everything clean to the bones, taken what they wanted and left the discards. I scoured her bedroom for something, a memory, a part of her. I took some earrings that I had never even seen her wear.

As the youngest grandchild, I had spent a lot of time with my grandmother. When my mother worked, I spent time in the big two-story house, certain that Chewbacca lurked behind corners. The fridge was always stocked with Nehi in every flavor. I grew up spending my Friday nights with her, eating at diners and making her laugh.

At 18 years old, I wasn’t ready to watch her die. I was still a kid, and I barely had the strength to say goodbye.

She always told me that when she died, a certain ring she wore would be mine. From the time I could talk, I always knew it. When she died, that was really all I wanted. It was the token I most associated with her.

When I see the ring now, it takes me back. But it’s not something I use every day. It sits tucked away. And so do the memories.

My grandmother’s ring was always on her hand. I used to sit on her lap and she’d ask me whose it was. I knew. She’d bounce me on her knees. She’d sing to me. She’d smile. I sing those same songs to my daughter. I remember.

But I found out quickly how sour things turn when loved ones die. People become greedy, wanting things for value or feeling others don’t deserve anything. It’s not about that. When someone dies, what I want is something that makes me smile when I see it. That takes me back to that time and that place and that sound and that smell. That moment in the kitchen when the snow was falling. That clink of metal when loose change hits a box. I want the one thing that will remind me of that person forever. And it could be a fancy ring, a cheap metal cross, or glass marbles. And every family member deserves that.

When my other grandmother died a year ago, I had a feeling dividing up the estate would be similar, bitter. I took one last look around her house while I could. I was rushed. I saw one of her old blue Mason jars and held it. She always had some near her stove, filled with tea or pasta or other basic ingredients. She was a cook like me. My grandmother had given me things through the years that she wanted me to have, but I wanted something that made me think of her when I saw it, something that evoked different memories. It didn’t need to have value. It just needed to take me back.

I’m glad I took the jar. It was the only token I got. The house is gone now. I know that with time, I’ll remember something and wish I had it. Something small like the milk glass that, after twenty-some years, I wish I had from my other grandmother. But at least I have the jar that spans my childhood memories of every kitchen that grandmother cooked in.

I hope that when I die, my kids don’t fight over things. I’d rather them bond over our time together and to think about the Mason jar: it appears old and empty, but through the glass I only see memories of a life lived.


I took this photo before my grandmother died because the jars reminded me of hers.



Filed under Family

51 responses to “Life Through a Mason Jar

  1. It’s good to have memories, especially happy ones. If I smell pipe tobacco, I think back to both of my grandfathers. I have an old powder compact given to me by my paternal grandfather several years before his death in 1974. It’s empty and tarnished now, the mirror inside pitted with age, but the outer engraved rose pattern is still visible.
    He loved roses, and whenever I see a lilac rose, I think of him.

  2. Beautiful post. Sad how bitter things can get. I don’t understand. I have a little elephant of my grandmothers and it makes me smile everytime. It’s nothing fancy, gosh I think it might even be made of some type of plastic, but it’s mine now with all it’s history.

    • Thanks. It is sad. I wish, especially for younger people, it could be a group effort. You never know what little thing will trigger a happy memory for someone.

      My husband’s grandmother used to keep a small figurine of a mouse and boot by her bedside that was I think her husband’s nearly only childhood relic. Certainly nothing fancy, but it meant a lot to her.

  3. Big hugs! I know what you went through. The exact same thing happened after my grandfather passed away, three years ago. My grandparents raised me and it was sad just seeing his kids come in, taking stuff they once bought him, or throwing away things or donating things to the goodwill that they didn’t find any use for. It was like seeing parts of him disappear forever.

    • There does come a time when cleaning out has to begin. I understand it. It’s hard to see things go to the trash or Goodwill. My husband and I helped clean out his grandparents’ home when they moved to assisted living. I’m so grateful that we took what little stuff we did. I took a big glass jar that she kept her flour in. Now every time I get out that heavy jar of my own flour, I think of her.

  4. It’s sad that for many of us, we lose our grandparents while we’re still in the ‘it’s mostly about me’ phase. We love our grandparents and have fond memories, but we often don’t wonder about them as people–people with pasts and wonderful stories–until it’s too late. At least that was the case with me. Most of my grandparents died before I hit my 30s, which is too bad. How I’d love to be able to go back now and spend a day with each of them, asking the questions I should have but never did.

    Sorry to hear you never got that ring. Too bad your grandma’s wishes weren’t met. 😦

    • I did get the ring! It wasn’t clear at all so I’m glad you said that. I updated the post and hope it’s clearer now. So thanks. 😉

      With the ring, I was still young and I just knew that’s what she wanted me to have so I badly wanted it. I knew it was her gift to me. Everything else was picked over. I remember walking through her room and pointing to things that I liked, that would remind me of her. I had spent so much time there. But the answer was always that someone else was getting that. At 18, I didn’t really think to look at dishes, like the milk glass that I so love now, probably because it reminds me of her. And it may have already been taken.

  5. What a beautiful post. It brought tears to my eyes. I agree with you. People are too greedy. Although my dear old grannie is still holding on at 91, she was placed in a group home setting a year ago. At that time everyone started going through her treasured belongings. I got lots of Christmas Decor she had gotten for gifts, but most of it had no meaning. I did however get her fancy antique handheld mirror. I remember her using it when she would put her rollers in her hair and “set it” every other night. I also got some of her canvas she made. I will cherish these things forever. My grama is to the point she is barely awake, and if so she doesn’t open her eyes. It kills me to see her like this. She has the bluest eyes ever. All I want is one more look into those eyes, one more smile, one more hug, one more I love you. I don’t think I will get this. 😦 I am glad you got the ring. I can tell by your post, your heart is genuine and you won’t look at that ring or the mason jars as money in your pocket like many, you will relive memories in your head which is what that stuff is supposed to be all about. Have a great weekend.


    • I don’t know all the details of what went on 20 years ago, but I know enough that it changed me then to decide that things aren’t important. If I end up with nothing, it’s OK. I still have the memories.

      I hope your grandmother opens her eyes again for you. I know how important “one more” would be.

      • Thank you me too!! And a life event about 6 months ago has really changed my thinking too on possessions. Time is the most important! And the bazillion photos I take all the time 🙂

  6. Makes me think of my own grandmother (maternal) passing. She was beloved by all. When she passed, I got something – a nick nack. It was these people sitting on a bench and it was the first thing I could see when I looked through her apartment window. I was not the only family member who wanted but was so happy when I actually did get it.
    What’s Nehi?

  7. That was beautiful. Thank you. :’)

  8. Beautiful, Karen. Really. Those things really do so much to help you accept a loss (because I don’t believe you ever get over it). But be careful with them — especially since those are breakable.

    The last Christmas present my sister Judy gave me, less than a month before she died, was a Bill Clinton Draft Dodger — it’s a stuffed version of Bill (who was president at the time), with long stuffed legs. You put it on the floor in front of a drafty door, spread his legs, and it blocks the draft. It’s hilarious. I found it in the trash can about two weeks ago — Bill is rather weathered after 14 years … and I burst into tears. My husband had forgotten and decided to pitch him. So I moved him to the one area I know John’ll never touch — a corner of my closet. Now Bill Clinton leers at me when I dress!

    • So glad you saw and rescued Bill just in time. We never know what things connect us to our loved ones. You’re right, I don’t think we ever get over it. It’s been twenty years and I always think how much my grandmother has missed in my life and what I never learned about hers. But she helped make me who I am.

  9. So beautifully poignant. It brought back lovely memories of my own grandparents.

  10. This is a beautiful post. It is sad that sometimes the worst in certain people comes out in these types of tragic situations when we need the best to shine through. I’m glad you were able to retain such a meaningful reminder of your grandmother. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Pingback: Looking Through Blue Glass | A Simple, Village Undertaker

  12. That was a beautiful post! My mother is an only child, so we didn’t have any trouble dividing up the estate when Grandma died. I never realized what a blessing that was until recently!

    One of my good friends had cousins stealing vacuums out of the house before their grandmother was even buried. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

  13. This is a fitting tribute to your love and your Gran’s love

  14. It is so sad when people start fighting about things after a beloved one’s death… Like they suddenly forgot that they cared for the person, and only want the person’s belongings now. You are right: the best is to keep something that is attached to a good memory…

  15. This made me really miss my own grandmother. Thanks for sharing this:)

  16. Such a beautiful piece. I relate to this so deeply. I hope your memories of your time together will last a lifetime.

  17. Lisa

    Family is always fun. I’m lucky since I live in the house my grandparents lived in all their lives. All I have to do is close my eyes and picture the house the way it was – we had to paint over the 70’s green paint and rip out the blue and green shag rug. 🙂

  18. Beautiful! It’s not the monetary value of the things our loved ones leave behind that matters most. It’s the feelings and memories those things evoke in us. I still use my mom’s wooden spoons daily in my kitchen, and feel like I’m stirring a bit of her love in every dish.

    • My mother-in-law has an old wooden masher that was her grandmother’s and some old wooden springerle molds of her mom’s. There’s nothing like cooking heirlooms, you’re right. Even recipes.

  19. Beautiful post, Karen. You do such a wonderful job with detail to place the reader in the story. As soon as I read “Nehi,” I was six years old again and pulling a 32 oz Orange out of a floor cooler at our country store. And I’ve seen more Mason jars than I can count.

    • Thanks, Traci. Coming from the queen of detail herself, that is quite the compliment. So glad a reader can relate to the Nehi reference. When I see it on a menu nowadays, I have to get it. Now peach is my favorite but I can’t remember if that was around when I was a kid. I know cherry was really my favorite then. Man, I need a fix. 😉

  20. Ohh so sad and true. When a family member dies, things can get really ugly. I hate that it seems for some love becomes about money and what’s deserve red or not. It’s ugly. I love your mason jars.

  21. Momz Happy Hour

    I know this all too well.. my grandmother died in 2008 and instead of putting it in her will, she told me before she died I could have her jewelry when she passed, and after she passed- i wanted a piggy cookie jar she always kept cookies in for my brother and I. When she passed, the cookie jar suddendly disappeared and supposedly nobody in the family knows where it went… and my aunt got dibs on the jewelry before I did..I got the left overs of what she didn’t want… sad…. i def. agree this is a beautiful tribute though. and I’m sorry for your loss.

    • It is hard. I learned the first time that the best thing to have is memories. Everything else is a bonus. I hope you found something that reminds you of your grandmother.

      • Momz Happy Hour

        I have one of her rings. IT’S not real but it reminds me of her and it was one of her favorites 🙂 I really wanted the cookie jar though, but I guess I’ll never know who has it. only they know…

  22. Karen! You can write, mama!

    I’ve lost my grandparents although I can’t say I was close to them too much, so I didn’t associate items with memories.

    However I do think about the dynamics of divvying up items after a person dies. I think about my own death, and how the last thing I want is for my kids to fight over something. I think about my mom’s passing and also hope that the bond my siblings and I have will outlast any sort of grievances and greed.

  23. I think that’s what’s more important to me: to not be this greedy person with my sister when the time comes. And I hope my kids don’t ever get that way. In the end, it’s just things.

  24. Aw, such a nice tribute to your grandmother. Those are perhaps the most beautiful mason jars I’ve seen! Glad you’re displaying them.

    It takes me back not so long ago when my own — I’m her name sake — died before she could meet my newborn son. When I arrived for her funeral service, aunts and cousins had already picked over EVERYTHING in her house — it was practically empty. Like a pack of thieves had hauled everything away, and it made my heart sink. I too hope my kids don’t do that to each other when I’m gone.

    There was one chair that no one wanted because it squeaked and had gaudy fabric. I gladly took it (and simply painted the room and decorated to match it). I also took her biscuit cutter (which I still use!) and a couple of things that she had knitted (my son sleeps with an elephant). It’s the small things I treasure most, but I still love to sit in that chair from time to time and just…think of her.

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