It’s been a while since I’ve shared one of my family stories. A recent visit with my cousin and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday provided perfect timing for sharing this special memory of my Mom.
This family heirloom…circa 1969 was made with my mother’s hands. In the late 60’s and early 70’s we lived in Fairfield,CA where Dad was stationed (USAF) at Travis Air Force base. Mom became a fan of what was called “The Hobby Shop”, a place on the base for family members to experiment with crafts. Mom took to the craft of ceramics with passion. It seems she was always at the table cleaning or painting ceramic pieces during the three years we resided there.
Unlike ceramics shops found today filled will pre-made and fired pieces that you pick out and only paint, in Mom’s time she chose the molds of items she wanted to make and then actually poured the clay into the molds. Once set, she would bring the pieces home and we would watch her use a little sculpting tool to gently scrape away the seam lines (like those found on chocolate bunnies for Easter) formed by the mold around the entire perimeter of each object. Once scraped away she used a small natural sponge lightly dipped in water and gently wiped the area until it was smooth. She would then bring the pieces back to the shop, where they were placed into a kiln for their first fire, the term for a baking process (just like pottery). A day or so later, she would pick up “the fired” pieces and then settle into meticulously painting and adding all of the little details.
Mom made everything from those retro lighted ceramic Christmas trees that are coming back, to large nativity sets and ♟ chess sets, some small like this one and some with pieces as large as 8 inches tall. Of all the items we remember her making, we only each (my brother and I) have one large nativity set and a couple of Santa mugs that are now found mass produced, but ours is made with Mom’s hands and when my grandchildren spend Christmas at my house, we use the mug for Santa’s milk to place next to his plate of cookies.
A couple of years ago, when my cousin was packing up items in her parents’ home to prepare it for sale, she found two of the ceramic chess sets my mother had made and given her parents as gifts. We have no idea why, she gave multiple versions of these small and large chess ♟ sets to my Dad’s sister (now 92) and her husband. My brother and I clearly remember her making them (see the black and white photo), but we didn’t have any of the chess sets. My cousin packed placed the items she found in boxes and asked me if I wanted them.
Prior to the pandemic of 2020 and 2021, she had give me one smaller and one larger version that my brother wanted. Some pieces were broken, but he set them aside saying he would try to repair the broken pieces.
Recently after two years, I drove the nearly hour distance to visit my 92 year old aunt and my cousin. She had been saying she had some things for me, and I thought we had gotten everything she had found, but she handed me yet another set. (As I said before, why did Mom make so many of these and send them all to this one relative?)
Ironically my oldest two grandchildren, now 13 and 10 were both first place chess champions for their grades in elementary school. My youngest grandson is not yet old enough to play, but I’m sure he will follow in his siblings footsteps.
Unfortunately, as I lined up all of the pieces to examine them, one white piece is missing to this set. It’s a little chipped and weathered (like most of us after 50 years), but after checking with my brother to find out if “maybe” the missing piece is with the set I passed on to him, I plan to box this set up to give to my grandchildren from their Great Granny.
What I know for sure… sometimes we do things that may not make sense at the time ( like giving 3 chess sets to my Aunt and Uncle), but they’re the ones who saved them all these years later so they would reappear for her great grandchildren. Coincidence? I think not.
An update to the story – I delivered the set and my grandson informed me that “Granny” (what they called my Mom) actually made extra pieces – so we were not short. He informed me that the players can actually win another queen and that “Granny” made two extra queens. He gave me my first chess lesson as my six year old grandson (who is extremely smart and remembers everything) stood by to listen in. Within minutes he was telling my how to move pieces. While he quickly understood the direction that each piece could be moved, he’ll need to learn how to actually “play” the game. I can just imagine that my Mom is looking down on all of us, smiling.