"I didn't mean to give you a fright, lassie; I was afraid you'd break
Mary's cup. That wee cup and saucer are a family treasure."
Treasure - family treasure - I had no idea our family had treasure!
"Who's Mary?" I puzzled aloud.
"Mary was my sister."
It had never occurred to me that my Nana might
have a sister.
She stood very still for a moment, then flashed me
a wink, "Let's make a pot of tea and I'll tell you about Mary and the wee
cup and saucer."
From my perch on the kitchen stool, I watched as
Nana drew water for tea and rustled through her biscuit tins in search of
Melting Moments, my favourite cookie. A stern look came my way, "Stay put.
I'll be right back."
I could hear her rummaging in the hall closet and
was tempted to slip down from the little stool and have a peek at what she
was up to, but I didn't. I stayed put and listened to the clock tick as my
fingers traced the fruit patterns on the tablecloth.
Mr. Kettle whistled for Nana to return and finish
making our tea.
On her way to the seat by the window, she scooped
up the prized cup and saucer and
set them on the table. As the tea steeped, she
stared out the window.
I thought I saw a tear in my Nana's eye.
Fetching herself up, she reached into her apron
pocket, withdrew a small, black and white photograph and placed it between
"This is wee Mary."
"Have a look at those big hazel eyes. You have her
honey blonde hair, lassie. Can you see the flower shaped buttons on the
bodice of her dress? Will you look at those big, puffed sleeves; it's a
mercy we don't have those to contend with now."
"Our Mary was a bonnie lass. My, oh my, how she
loved to sing, a little songbird she was; and clever, as clever a girl as
you'll ever meet. Our Pa taught the wee mite to read before she was five
years of age."
Memories of Mary filled the air.
"Mary became very ill; she was but a girl when she
Nana spoke no more of that: she told of picnics in
the glen and gathering shells at the shore; of Mary's giggle, when kitty
licked her nose; and of how she had come to own the wee cup and saucer.
When Mary could no longer venture forth on her
own, her family would take her out in the buggy for a stroll. On a
Saturday, they might stop for a sweetie at The Tuck Shop.
It was on just such an outing with her Pa that
Mary had spied the wee cup and saucer. So captivated had she been, Pa had
lifted her from the buggy and carried her inside the shop for a closer
look. She knew her Pa could not afford to buy such a thing, but oh, how
pleased she'd been to admire it up close.
Without a word to Mary, Pa had returned to the
shop and arranged for the cup and saucer to be set aside. From his
shoemaker's wages, small payments would be made until the full purchase
price had been settled on the shopkeeper.
On Easter Sunday morning of 1898, Mary received
the wee cup and saucer. She took her tea from it every Sunday thereafter.
A soft smile played on Nana's face.
"Porcelain is very delicate, so you must hold it
gently and take care not to drop it."
As the emerald green demi-cup was placed in the
palm of my hand, goosebumps traveled up my arm. Ever so slowly, my eyes
took in the narrow band of beaded gold that circled the rim and the tiny
gold teardrops cascading down to the footed base. In turn I held the hand
painted saucer with its three soft green leaves and single white blossom.
I squealed with delight when I spotted a tiny red raspberry nestled under
I envied Mary, for she had taken her tea from this
wee cup and saucer.
Nana slipped the saucer from my hand and laid it
before me. Raising the little cup, she began to pour the tea. I sat
spellbound with anticipation, as she added a few drops of milk and gave it
"There you go, lassie. Have yourself a fine cup of
Mary's mother - my great grandmother - tucked the
treasured cup and saucer safely amongst her linens when she 'crossed the
pond' to Canada in 1907. They would pass to Nana, when Great-granny died
in 1928 and to my mother when Nana died in 1958.
On a warm summer's eve in 1976, my mother passed
the wee cup and saucer along to me. On that night, I would come to know
the nature of Mary's illness.
Mary Smith Balfour Watson was born in Maybole,
Ayrshire, Scotland in August of 1892. One day short of her seventh
birthday, her life would be lost to a tubercular hemorrhage.
The first symptoms had begun to appear when she
turned four. As the disease progressed, she developed a curve in the
mid-section of her backbone and her chest thickened. Unable to hold
herself upright, she had to be carried everywhere.
Not having children of my own, I often wondered to
whom the wee cup and saucer would pass.
One winter's night, my niece, aged four at the
time, was at my house for a sleepover. She was colouring, as I wrote a
Glancing over to the hutch and the little treasures I kept on it,
she asked, "Auntie Carol, where did you get the little cup and saucer?"
Memories of a bygone day echoed through my heart. "Well, Carly," I said, "let's make a pot of tea
and I'll tell you about Mary and the wee cup and saucer."