The Tray

It’s funny the things you take with you, the things you throw out. For years we had a metal tray shaped like a daisy. It was made of an early aluminum alloy I think. The center, where the seeds of the flower would be, was sunken. The petals – the body of the tray – were well-defined, one from another. Anything on the tray would either slide to the center or tip from the edge of one petal to the next. There were two handles in the shape of coils, scored to prevent slippage or for decoration. One of the handles was wired on, a clumsy repair. It was large, at least 80 cm across handle to handle and all in all a fairly useless object. I kept it up on the top of a kitchen cabinet, hard to reach, hard to clean, visible but not intrusive.

My mother had it hanging on the wall in her last kitchen, the one in Miami Beach. It wasn’t any easier for her to use or to clean but it fit well with the giant yellow flowers on the wallpaper. It was among the things I packed into a very large suitcase to take back to Berlin after her death.

It must have been 1946 when the tray arrived at our house. I was six, maybe seven years old, and remember looking down from my bedroom window in our new house, charged by my mother to watch for my aunts’ arrival. They toiled up the hill in the snow, burdened by suitcases. Had they come by train? Probably. In those years, who flew, or had the gas coupons to drive to the station to pick up visitors? Tante Bessie and Tante Dottie, come all the way from New York to Boston to see little sister Eva’s big new house. And it was big – twenty-seven rooms – a mansion. And it was new, at least for us- our first property. So it was fitting that a decorative, not particularly useful tray should grace the new house. We owned the house only for eighteen months; the heating bills were enormous. But the tray stayed with us, moving from Brookline to Miami Beach and finally to Berlin, a memory of that glorious house and my mothers’ victory over poverty, debt and the contempt of her family.

Those months in the big house, the way my parents talked about it later, the room it took up in our family’s memories, had no relation to the time we actually lived there. I never did walk down the double wing staircase as a bride. The music room dwarfed our upright piano. The cook’s apartment behind the kitchen never housed a cook. The oval dining room table, bought to fit into the oval dining room never fit anywhere else, but, like the tray, was kept, at least for a while. For me the house was a paradise – a garden, a tall beech tree even a six year old could climb, and a dog, waiting for me at the corner to walk me home from school. Maybe that’s why the tray came to Berlin.

When we downsized last year, I gave the tray to the junk men who took the broken bookcases, lamps and surplus vases. I’m older now than my mother was when she moved to Miami and, like her, remember more of my childhood than I do of yesterday’s busy-ness. It’s all lodged in my memory. I don’t need the objects to remind me, at least not all of them.