While John is recuperating from his recent surgery, I’ve been bringing his breakfast upstairs so he can enjoy it in bed. (This morning it was yoghurt with honey, granola, and banana; two slices of homemade cheese and sage toast with a wedge of St. Andre Brie and a little dollop of our Winter Sunlight marmalade; a clump of grapes; and good coffee.) For years he brought me coffee in bed every morning so this seems like a fair exchange. I bring the breakfast up on a tin tray that was his mother’s and then I set up a wooden bed tray that he thinks belonged to his grandmother. He remembers being 4 years old, visiting his grandmother in Sheffield, and having an earache which she soothed by dripping warm oil into his ear. He almost remembers the tray on his bed, a special treat for a small boy with a sore ear.
When I was folding the tray up yesterday morning, I noticed the little label on the back: John Watts Sheffield & London Limited. I was curious and so I looked Mr. Watts up. It turns out the company archive is held by Sheffield City Archives, among them records including correspondence, accounts, and weekly records of productions from 1916-1983. The company manufactured cutlery, scissors, cabinets, and other goods. And as it turns out, elegant folding trays so a small boy and the man he became can enjoy breakfast in bed.
John’s parents were proud northerners. They believed in quality and they believed Sheffield-made objects were superior. We have many pieces of Sheffield cutlery as well as a beautiful Sheffield-plate coffee pot dating from before 1840, given to his parents as a wedding gift. We use it on Christmas morning or other times when it seems important to serve coffee in something old and lovely. We think of the family members who gave us these things and those who will have them after we’re gone.
These are difficult days. I hear John on the deck, walking back and forth on his new hips, the one foot that has lost all feeling in its exoskeleton, heavy and dark. I hear his effort. When we climb the stairs, him with a crutch and me behind, reminding him of the order–good foot, bad foot, crutch, good foot, bad foot, crutch– I know we are climbing to a world unknown. The sound of it is far away, like weather that might settle or might pass over. This morning I went for a swim and saw new snow at the very top of Mount Hallowell. I’ll fill the woodbox with dry sappy fir and keep the house warm. And the old things around us, the silver and linens, the wooden tray connect us, him, to those who have always cared.