Department of English

Spring 2005 Edition

Salt and Pepper Memories

Jennifer Marrott
1010 Expressive Winner

In a beat-up cedar chest, I keep items that are significant to me. Many of these items, at first glance, appear ordinary and meaningless, but after further explanation it is easily seen how this collection of trinkets forms a patchwork of my life. One of these objects crosses my mind often. It is a salt and pepper shaker set given to me by my grandmother. It serves as a reminder of the remarkable relationship I have with my grandparents.

The very first job I had was working for my grandma on Saturday mornings. It was a tradition all the granddaughters before me took part in. At five dollars an hour, that was more money than an eleven-year-old could dream of, and so I didn't mind giving up my Saturdays. Plus, there was always a mid-morning run to the gas station for Cokes and lunch at noon. My parents would drop me off at 9 a.m., and I was put to work always cleaning one of two things: the windows or the kitchen cabinets. The windows were a painstaking task as my grandmother insisted on cleaning them in an old fashioned method: vinegar, wipe, water, wipe, towel dry. Also, I was bound to run into a number of spiders along the way.

It was one of my luckier days. Over the years, I had grown to love the kitchen. My grandma is an amazing cook, and the kitchen had been my classroom to learn the art of cookies, brownies, chocolates, and so many other things I crave. In my memory, it is always a sunny room. The sun would pour through the east window and cast rainbows on the floor through the little humming bird prism stuck to the glass.

As I looked up at the heavy oak cabinets, I knew I had a task ahead of me. I knew they would exhaust me, but if my grandma wanted them cleaned, I would do it. Years of use had left their corners chipped, and the creaky brass hinges yelped as I pulled the doors open. The lazy-susan ran deep into the wall so my fingers couldn't reach the back. The cupboards stood as rickety stacked cargo boxes waiting to be burned.

My grandma supplied me with a rag and bucket; I got to work. I sifted through flour barrels, sticky molasses jars, oily cracker boxes, and small bottles of strange spices. I took note of expiration dates and laughed. When I came to Grandma's old cookbooks, I paused. Old paper reminded me of treasure maps, and I couldn't help but investigate. I wasted time flipping through yellow musty smelling books that hadn't been opened for years. My grandma knew them all by heart. I snapped out of my mystified moment and continued on. My efforts felt futile as things that have been dirty for a long time seemed to have become permanently dirty. Still I honored the request and kept digging. Kipper snacks, candies, dusty teacups, and stray recipe cards all littered the counter-top. At last I came to my final cabinet, a tiny seemingly inaccessible square squished between the ceiling and fridge-the final unexplored treasure chest.

I opened the small door, and to my dismay, everything was caked in dust. I started to remove tiny champagne glasses that had been packed tightly inside. The air became thick and I choked as flecks of dust particles danced in the morning sun. As the cabinet emptied, I noticed something hiding in a dark corner. A spark of adventure caught me as I have always had a fascination with strange old things that lurk in forgotten places of the world.

As I pulled it out, it rattled in my hands. It stood on a tarnished base of silver. A small pillar engraved with ivy stretched up with two arms. On each arm, a small deep red glass strawberry hung with a silver leaf top. Upon closer examination, I found the whole thing to be a salt and pepper shaker set. It must have been quite beautiful back in its day. My grandma noticed my fascination with the set as I quickly became more motivated in polishing the base than cleaning her cabinets. She smiled and told me I could have it. That day I made out with much more than twenty dollars and free lunch.

A couple years later it was Christmas Eve and my whole family was gathered back at my grandparents' house. The air was restless as all the grandchildren had only one thing on their minds. The climax of the evening finally came, and it was time to open presents. I sat with anticipation at what I could possibly receive this year. Soon, I was handed a solid cherry wood box, with a note attached to the top that read:

Put these salt and pepper shakers on your kitchen table, use them everyday, and they will not lose their shine. As you hold them let them remind you of how much we love you. You are the spice of our lives, we savor your love, you put pepper into our steps, and a burning desire to see you more often. You are the salt of the earth, and life would have no seasoning without you. Love you, Grandma and Grandpa Marrott.

I opened the box and was struck with awe at what I saw. Inside there lay a pair of new silver and gold salt and pepper shakers. They rested in a padding made of green velvet. A strange present, but it meant the world to me.

Now the new box sits in my parent's home in a display case. I'll leave it there until I have a home of my own. The old set I found while cleaning will stay in my box of keepsakes. Although they are not made of gold or silver, this set means the most to me. The time of my life they stand for is priceless, and the dense memory of my grandparents hangs around them.

It's funny how objects can recall such vivid memories and meanings. As I enter friends' homes and see their salt and pepper shakers sitting on their dinner tables, or every time I go out to eat, I can't help but think of the gift I received from my grandparents. Even when I hear the words, "pass the salt and pepper," I am always reminded of my young summer days spent cleaning cupboards with loving grandparents.