In July on our way home from the Outer Banks, we made our annual stop at Farmer Franks Market in peanut country on US 58 in southern VA. (Yes, this is roughly the same part of Virginia I wrote about in To Soccer Fields through Cotton Fields. Peanuts and cotton are ideal crops to rotate with one another). We bought their homemade peanut brittle and a bag of still warm boiled peanuts, and we browsed the antiques and junque.
A crackled serving bowl with a delicate floral edging caught my eye, so I turned it over in my hands. On a small piece of tape stuck to the back in shaky grandmother writing was written, “Virgie 1930.”
Oh my. What had happened that Virgie’s bowl had landed here? Was the bowl a gift or inheritance from Virgie in 1930? Or was the tape meant to designate the bowl for Virgie and to let him know that its era was 1930? Was Virgie now gone, too, and the bowl his mama had passed to him slipped away from the family altogether?
The bowl was priced at $25. I would like to have had it so I could love it and use it as the treasure Virgie’s mama thought it was. But $25 is over the limit for that sort of thing, especially since I have no idea if this bowl has any kind of collectible value, and I’m not a collector anyway.
So we drove home from the beach, read a week’s worth of newspapers in one day, adopted an energetic dog from the Humane Society, started a new soccer season, rolled through radio and magazine deadlines, split wood, mowed grass, read books, ate dinners.
Virgie. Virgie’s bowl. They drifted into my consciousness with the slightest provocation; I couldn’t shake the bowl’s image or its possible stories. Was Virgie the giver of the bowl, or was he the intended recipient? If he received the bowl, he must never have used it, since the tape had not been removed. Was the bowl the only thing Mama was able to pass down, or just something personal in the midst of a large estate? Did Virgie know why Mama wanted him to have this particular bowl?
Why did Mama want Virgie to have this bowl–was it the bowl used for Sunday dinner string beans, cooked with ham? The bowl for mashed potatoes with a big dollop of real butter melting on top? Was it an every-day bowl or a Thanksgiving Day bowl?
Why hadn’t Virgie taken the tape off? Was Virgie not really able to cook by the time he received the bowl? So it stayed in the box, from Mama to Virgie, and Virgie passed, and his boxed things were taken to a yard sale. Or did Virgie put the bowl on a shelf to look at: “Mama’s Bowl,” and he left the tape on with her handwriting, to honor the gift?
Or did Virgie never appreciate the bowl? Sold Mama’s house, took the money and some tools from the shed and the basement, but dropped the carefully tissue-wrapped household goods off at the Goodwill, memories of Mama’s green beans either enough or too much on their own.
Or maybe Virgie was a daughter, niece or granddaughter, instead of a son, nephew or grandson? I realize “Virgie” can be a nickname for Virgil or Virginia, but in the southern communities I’ve lived in, “Ginny” is the nickname for Virginia, and “Virgie” has always been the familiar name for a boy (ok, actually, in my experience, an older man) named Virgil. But if Virgie were a girl in the case of the bowl, more stories and images come to mind. Did Virgie also get her mother’s apron? Did she get her mother’s biscuit recipe? Did she take the old cat when Mama died? Did she start calling herself Virginia when she got that teller job down at Carter Bank and Trust?
So when I realized we would drive past the same Farmers Market on our way to a soccer game in Eastern Virginia in October, I hatched a plot. We’d stop by, I said, to get some boiled peanuts, to breathe in the fresh apples and last tomatoes.
But really, truly, I wanted to visit Virgie’s bowl.
Would it still be there, all these months later? In the mass of glassware and horse leather and vinyl LPs and pumpkins, would Virgie’s bowl still be findable? I thought if I could just take a photo of it, I might be able to shake it.
And you know, since the picture of the bowl is here, that it was still there. It took me a few minutes to find it, but when I did, I found my memory of the bowl and its taped label was frighteningly exact. Taking the photograph did remove most of my desire to actually have the bowl, which was some strange extension of my too-much-empathy problem. I wanted to have the bowl to appropriately love it–not for any financial value or to fill a hole in my non-existent collection–but because someone had wanted Virgie to have it and love it and remember by.
Or, maybe Virgie was the yard man, and Miss Bessie thought she should leave something for him, considering he and his no-good-brother-in-law had been mowing and raking and deadheading the lilies for her for going on three decades, and that wifey of his would talk it up if they did not get a thing from that old woman.
Clearly, I did not shake it.
When I really seem not to be with it, when we run out of obvious things like milk and toilet paper, when my perfectly good left brain seems to have checked out despite the to-do list and the calendar, when unmatched socks mix on the counter with receipts and radio notes, it is because of Virgie or some such, making stories in me with or without my intent or consent.
We’ll pass by that way again in a few months, when spring soccer starts. In the mean time, I have to navigate the stories told by picket fences, wood piles, Christmas lights, abandoned barns, and deserted cotton mills.
Virgie will be with me, of course.