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.