This will be a short story. A love story. A sad story. A family story.
My family owns a real treasure. It was given to my parents many years ago and even though it probably has no real material value on the market, it has a huge sentimental value for our family. It is a Chinese porcelain XIX-th century bowl for incense.
The bowl is no bigger than a stick of butter, hand colored and adorned. It’s red on the bottom and gold on the top. Tiny heads of animals (or maybe dragons) can be seen all over the bowl. And instead of a regular lid, there is a head of a crazy creature staring at you every time you want to lift the lid. The amount of different creatures all over the bowl and sharp colors make it kind of hypnotic. Or at least I used to get hypnotized while staring at it when I was younger.
When I was a child I would always ask my mother to let me hold it for a moment and I would carefully stare at each of the creatures, making up a story in my head about their voyage from China to Poland. It was strictly forbidden for me to touch the bowl without supervision of my parents. And every time they let me “play” with it, I had to wash my hands as if I was about to perform a surgery or something.
So, the story. My great grandmother, born and raised in Germany, had met her future husband in the Free City of Danzig in the early ’30s of last century. He was a young, handsome, muscled Polish soldier (marine) who immediately fell in love with her. They got married pretty quickly and became a happy little family.
My great grandfather worked on one of the Polish ships that was navigating trips to Asia in the ‘30s . He brought his wife an amazing bowl for incense from one of his sailing to China. It was his last work trip before War World II started. And to make it even more sad, that was the last thing he gave to her.
In a couple of months he was enlisted to fight against the Nazis.
You think it can’t get any sadder? Well it can because life is not a piece of cake. When he went to the war, my grandmother realized she was pregnant with their second child. I wish the story would have ended as happy as in all Hollywood movies about World War II. But it didn’t.
My grand grandmother was left alone with two small kids, a couple of suitcases and the expensive Chinese bowl for incense that would always remind her of him.
I was only five when she passed away but I can still remember the little white oval table, in the corner of her living room, on which there was always a photo of my great grandfather (the official one from the Army), fresh flowers and the bowl for incense. I can actually also remember the German song of Tuff tuff tuff, die Eisenbahn (meaning Puff, Puff, Puff, The Train) that she used to sing while babysitting me.
The little incense bowl reminds my family about the brave woman who managed to raise two kids, sent them to good schools and made them feel loved as if they had two parents. I guess, love, memories, looking ahead and not behind you was what made it possible.