Heirloom

Thanksgiving approaches. The defrosted turkey waits in the fridge next to the fresh cranberries; cans of pumpkin puree and evaporated milk are stacked on the counter for today’s baking frenzy. Time to drag a stepstool over to the high cabinet and unload the silverplate from its non-holiday resting place.

The silver arrived in a large cardboard carton on a spring afternoon five years ago. After forty years in her Bethesda home, my yiayia had sold the place and moved in with my uncle and aunt in McLean, which required her to shed most of her possessions. When she asked me if I wanted a keepsake, I requested some pieces from her silverplate collection. There they were, nestled amongst wads of crushed newspaper, each piece zipped into its own sable-colored flannel casing to prevent tarnish. Two candelabra for me, ornate and heavy. Pieces for each of the children, ranging from a pedestal candy dish to a scalloped relish tray to a palm-sized bowl in the shape of a leaf, light and Elvish. And one more, an extra piece at the bottom of the carton: a smooth, perfectly round plate with a simple raised border. In its center was engraved a looped cursive L.

L for Lynard, my maiden name, and for Linardakis, my father’s family name before Ellis Island.

When I called Yiayia to thank her she made special mention of the plate. “It’s for George,” she said. “I thought you could keep it for him, just in case.”

George, my only blood sibling, Yiayia’s only male grandchild, the last Lynard from the loins of my great-grandparents, Petro and Vasilo. Of course, the heirloom is rightfully his. But I can’t give it to him. He’s gone, fleeing the forty-year prison sentence which darkens the bulk of his remaining years.

It’s been ten years since the incident which sparked that sentence; five since I’ve heard my brother’s voice. I don’t think of him very often. I can’t—it hurts too much. But around the holidays, the memories come unbidden. George was my sole partner in the childhood dance between two families separated by divorce, a dance even more tricky on special occasions. Together we’d make our way through the maze of cheek-kissing Greek relatives crowding our yiayia’s living room. Together we’d survey the buffet table, snitching pieces of roast lamb and baklava from the shining silver platters. Together we’d doze in our father’s smoke-filled Oldsmobile on the long drive back to our home. Dad would drop us off across the street a half-block away from the house, because he couldn’t tolerate any closer proximity to our mother.

But we stayed close, George and I. Once a month we navigated an overnight stay at our father’s dark townhouse in Capitol Heights, where he and I holed up in the wood-paneled den to watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island and eat Jiffy-Pop. During the Lynard vacations on the Delaware shore we spent days crashing through the green-gray Atlantic waves, popping bubbles of seaweed and poking vomity jellyfish with sticks; in the late afternoons we’d roam the tar-creased boardwalk, buying crappy novelties from the beachfront five-and-dime and wasting hours in the arcades, where I’d faithfully stand at George’s elbow and watch him play Spy Hunter and Galaga. Even after he outgrew family vacations he drew me to his side again and again, often sequestering me in his room to listen to whatever music he was currently obsessed with: Rush in the early eighties, Metallica in the late; Pink Floyd throughout. He’d sit me on his bed and play Brain Damage at top volume:

The lunatic is in my head
The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade; you make the change
You rearrange me ‘til I’m sane
You lock the door and throw away the key
There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me

He was my partner in crime those years, leading the way into various forms of self-destruction, going farther and deeper into trouble than I ever did. He high-fived my lesser misadventures and covered my back like the quintessential proud older brother. In hindsight, despite my regret at having been so foolish, those memories with him are good ones.

But some memories are not good. I pale as I remember the times George wept in his bedroom with me as his only audience, sobbing over the breach in our family and the cruelty in our stepfamily. As the years passed he stopped crying and hardened his face and fists against it all. We protected each other, emotionally or otherwise, whenever we could—but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. On the morning my stepfather banished teenage George to the damp, unfinished basement while the rest of us went sailing for the day, I got in the van with my mother and stepsiblings and left him there, alone. Humililated. Demoralized.

Decades later, as I reach into the high cabinet for the flannel-cased silverplate, this is what I think about: the leaving. For years now I’ve struggled with anger at George, anger over his selfish, reckless choice to run from the law and from his family. But today I remind myself that my brother was abandoned over and over again as a child, a teenager, a young adult. In due time, his turn came around. And he took it, leaving all of us behind, trapped in the dank recesses of the unknown. How can I blame him?

My children fill the kitchen, excited to help with the cakes and the pies and the obligatory yet heavenly green jello concoction we snarf down each November. Every holiday they insist that each piece of the silverplate be unzipped and used, from the Elvish bowl to the heavy candelabra. The surface of the L plate gleams as I pull it from its bag—my teenage son Ben, who reminds me so much of my brother, half-jokes about selling it on Ebay. “Nobody would want to buy it,” I tell him. “And besides, we’d never sell this. It’s an heirloom.”

As I hold the plate aloft, its flat surface perfectly reflects my face with its beginnings of wrinkles. I look like my yiayia. I touch the nick on the plate’s ledge, a small spot where the silverplating has flaked off, showing dark and coarse metal underneath. I wonder if the finish would’ve lasted if I’d kept the plate tucked away these past few years, or if the sheer passage of time would have marred it nonetheless, like an aging body. In any case I believe it deserves to be used, a bright flash in the backdrop of my family’s memories, since my brother cannot create any of his own. But I wish I could fix the nick, dab it with liquid silver, cover the dark spot. Make the plate whole again. Then zip it into its flannel case to wait, safe from the corroding touch of air.

________________________

Heirloom

Comments

  1. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Wonderful.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Kathy. I hope it’s as sweet and happy a time as it can be. And I half hope that maybe somewhere, George will google your name, and read this post, and smile.

    Hugs to you.

  2. I ache with you, dear KLS. Thank you for unzipping your heart to share this tender piece of humanity.

  3. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

    And to George…with whom I share so much…even though we’ve never met.

  4. Thanks for posting this. What a wonderful way to bind your family together combining the traditions of our national festivals with those of your family — they are surely gaining a strong sense of fellowship and identity in the process.

    How tragic for your brother George. Never underestimate the power of prayer for the wounded soul.

  5. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    A great post, Kathy. Is there anything more consistently tragic than families?

  6. Beautiful, my sweet friend. Thank you.

  7. Antonio Parr says:

    Wow.

    Blessings to you and your family.

  8. Kathy,
    beautiful post. It really resonates with me, as I lost my brother for quite some time. The pain of his “disappearance” could, at times, be nearly unbearable.

    But, I have to echo the words of John f. – “Never underestimate he power of prayer for the wounded soul.”

    Thanks again for your post. It was very tender and beautifully written.

  9. How beautiful and poignant. Thanks for sharing.

    My heart aches for all those little sisters that wait adoringly for their big brothers to come home, to love them, to be healed. I am one of those little sisters, too.

  10. Oh Kathryn.

    God bless all families, everywhere.

  11. Mark Brown says:

    Thank you, Kathryn.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    A beautiful, heart-wrenching post.

    (And I hadn’t realized you were Greek; now I understand why you’re the baklava queen!)

  13. This was beautiful; I’ve been struggling this week with some family drama created by my older brother as well and it’s nice to know I’m not alone. So hard when you can see some of the reasons behind their choices and yet still feel angry that they are making them.

  14. Today I am thankful for this post.

  15. So lovely, and so horrible, Kathy. Prayers and blessings.

  16. Thanks for this example of enjoying bitter-sweet memories when we are separated from the ones we love. It can be tempting to push away any memory at all when there is pain associated with it. Your piece encourages me to let the memories flow even if tears flow with them.

  17. Glenn Smith says:

    I wanted to leave only a simple, comforting scripture and went to GospeLink to find one. However, Russell M Ballard’s comments struck me deeply. I hope it’s not too long, and will be of some comfort.

    Russell M Ballard, Our Search for Happiness:

    “””””” My grandfather understood that concept. Even though he died when I was just ten years old, Melvin J. Ballard has been a major influence in my life. For as long as I can remember I have heard my family talk about his love for the Lord and his unwavering devotion to the Church. He spent his entire life building on the “sure foundation” of which Helaman spoke, and I’m not aware of any “shafts in the whirlwind” that were able to penetrate his faith and testimony. In fact, my personal quest for knowledge of the Savior was motivated to a great degree by Grandfather Ballard’s account of one of his most sacred experiences.

    While he was serving a mission among American Indians in the Northwest, my grandfather faced a time of incredible struggle. There were unprecedented—and seemingly insurmountable—challenges for the Church there, and my grandfather literally spent hours on his knees asking for guidance and inspiration. During one such period, when all seemed bleak and utterly hopeless, grandfather received, in his words, “a wonderful manifestation and impression which has never left me.

    A Witness That He Lives

    “I was told there was a [great] privilege that was to be mine,” he recorded. “I was led into a room where I was informed I was to meet someone. As I entered the room I saw, seated on a raised platform, the most glorious being I have ever conceived of, and was taken forward to be introduced to Him. As I approached He smiled, called my name, and stretched out His hands toward me. If I live to be a million years old I shall never forget that smile.

    “He put His arms around me and kissed me, as He took me into His bosom, and He blessed me until my whole being was thrilled. As He finished I fell at His feet, and there saw the marks of the nails; and as I kissed them, with deep joy swelling through my whole being, I felt that I was in heaven indeed.

    “The feeling that came to my heart then was: Oh! if I could live worthy, though it would require four-score years, so that in the end when I have finished I could go into His presence and receive the feeling that I then had in His presence, I would give everything that I am and ever hope to be!”

    Grandfather concluded: “I know—as I know that I live—that He lives. That is my testimony.” (Melvin J. Ballard—Crusader for Righteousness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966.)

    That experience infused my grandfather with the comfort, determination, and spiritual energy he needed to deal with the problems he was encountering on his mission. In fact, the day after he received that manifestation, he joined one of his fellow missionaries, W. Leo Isgren, in visiting a well-to-do merchant in Helena, Montana. Some years later, Brother Isgren told me how he and my grandfather had stood together in front of a life-sized portrait of Jesus Christ that was prominently displayed in the merchant’s home. At length, grandfather turned to Brother Isgren.

    “No, that isn’t Him,” grandfather said. “The artist has made a fair representation of Him, but that isn’t Him.”

    “I was filled so much with a sacred feeling that I could say nothing,” Brother Isgren told me. “After we left the home and were on our way to our next appointment, Brother Ballard stopped me and said, ‘Brother Isgren, I suppose you were somewhat startled at my words regarding the Savior of the world.’ I told him that, yes, indeed, I had been—very much so. And then and there firsthand he told me of his experience the previous evening.”

    While we may not all have experiences of that same magnitude or intensity, the essence of our ministry in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to invite all people everywhere to “come unto Christ” so that He can work His miracle in their lives in whatever way He chooses. For some, that miracle will mean a significant change of life and lifestyle. For others it will simply mean new purpose and understanding in lives that are already rich with faith. But for all it will mean peace and joy and happiness beyond measure as the Master touches hearts and souls with His love. That’s what my Grandfather Ballard felt as a result of his dramatic manifestation, and that’s what I felt in a quieter, calmer way that evening near the Trent River in Nottingham, England.

    That testimony has been with me ever since. It has sustained me through trials, comforted me in times of need, and given me a clear direction to follow whenever I have been confused or discouraged. Through my service as one of His Apostles I have had many special spiritual experiences that confirm and secure my personal knowledge of Him as the Savior and Redeemer of the children of God. Because I know that Jesus Christ lives and that He loves me, I find the courage to repent and to strive to be what He would want me to be. I know this knowledge can do the same for you, if you want it to—now, and forever. “””””

  18. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Well said, jen.

    Thank you, all, for the comments. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket on holiday cheer, but these occasions can be bittersweet for so many.

  19. We have much to be grateful for. This post among them. Thanks for sharing this memorable gift.

  20. How strange it is that in spite of Adam’s choice, it can be so difficult at times to tell the difference between the pleasure and the pain of memory!

    This is a lovely gift to the rest of us, Kathy. Thank you.

  21. This is a fine and powerful essay, Kathryn, filled with exquisite imagery. Thank you for writing it, and thank you for being the thinking, loving, filled-with-regrets person you are, like all of us are or should be. And like Kaimi says, I hope that this Thanksgiving, wherever he may be, some impulse will lead George to the computer, and he will Google your name, and he will find these words waiting for him. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  22. Thank you.

  23. I also hope that at some point in the future, even if just for a brief moment, Kathy changes her last name to Skynard. B-)

    Sweet home, Jordan Utah,
    Da-da-da-da-da-da
    Where the skies are so blue . . .

  24. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Kaimi, I’ve never heard that before.

  25. Knew it! :)

    If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?
    Cause I must be travlin on now . . .

  26. You mean Kathryn Lynyrd Skynyrd? It does have a certain ring to it, and her initials would be the same.

    Kathryn, maybe you can use it for your online handle!

    Thanks, once again for a wonderful post. As a big brother, and a father of a big brother, I especially felt the weight of the reality that my actions have never affected only me. On behalf of big brothers everywhere, I thank you for that reminder and I commit to always endeavor to be a good big brother. For George, and for all of us who fall short, I’ll say a special prayer for mercy and forgiveness and hope that we all find our way home. Thanks again, Kathryn.

  27. Exquisite. Thank you.

  28. I want to reach out and hug George and so many children who suffer. I hope George reads this. You never know. Thank you for sharing.

  29. I think she’d have to call herself Kythryn, MCQ. Or Kythy for short.

  30. This bird, you cannot change.

  31. Steve Evans says:

    Freebird!

  32. Where’s my lighter? WHERE’s my lighter!?

  33. I love Kythryn!

  34. Tracy, check the glove compartment for a spare.

    Thanks again, all, for your kind words. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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