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  • Mallory James Glenn

The Blue Colander

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning an elderly lady’s home for her. She quietly sat in the kitchen at her computer desk. I quietly daydreamed as I dusted, until I was interupted by one of my own thoughts, "man, she's got a lot of books." A few thoughts later I took note to reading the word fashion over and over. There was a whole row of fashion books. Then a whole row of costume books. I widened my gaze and to see there were shelves upon shelves full of them! Costume books from different eras and places around the world.


I wondered if she was a famous designer or costumer for the movies. I thought of my friend Sarah and about how she would love these books and this lady. I started to dust another bookcase, only to find dozens of books on gardening. Three or four shelves up I found a collection on travel. The bookcase next to that one had crafting and art history. Next to that one was a large selection on architecture. I can’t even remember them all, but each subject had a library-worth of books on each. The bookshelves wrapped around her main sitting room. I began to wonder if she was a writer. Maybe she used them when researching for her novels! I never asked her what she did for a living. Mostly I was afraid of being rude or coming across nosey but apparently I thought I had her all figured out on my own anyhow.


When I was almost finished, she joined me in the living room. She sat in an armchair looking around at all her things. I wondered if she was satisfied with the cleaning I did. For a moment, I was worried she was seeing things I potentially missed and would be disappointed in the job I did for her. I realized that wasn't what she was thinking at all- “I’m slowly getting rid of things" she said, "There is so much to go through. I already have some boxes full of stuff set aside for Goodwill.” 


She looked around the room at the shelves with all her collected items on them. Every thing had a spot and found a permanent home on the shelf or wall. I doubted she would be one to switch things up from time to time. I also didn’t see her as a woman that would be given something and put it on the shelf because she felt she had to. If something wasn’t her taste, she would have most definitely re-gifted it. Either that or her people know her very well! It was all her.


She told me she lived there since the 70s. I wondered if one day I would tell someone that I lived in my apartment in LA for 50 years. What ideas would they make up about me based on my book collections and many thingies. I hope some of the books will have my name on them.


She looked at me and said, “I don’t know how old you are but you look about the age to be setting up a home of your own. Maybe there are some things I’m getting rid of that you will need.” I thought that was a sweet gesture. I didn’t want to be rude, but I also don’t like accumulating things. At least I try not to - and I’m blessed to have all the things I need. I wondered what she was going to offer and if it would be my taste. I already have stuff I’m trying to get rid of. I’m not a good liar - what if it’s ugly? Then again, I’m 34 going on 80 so I’ll probably love whatever she gives me. 


Much like her (or the story I made up about her) I have a certain taste and I don’t like random thingies. My thingies have purpose or meaning, so I hoped it would be something I needed. I thought whatever it is, I’ll take it. It will save her taking it to Goodwill- maybe I should just take the boxes she already has ready? Sometimes those boxes can sit around for months. Maybe I’ll just help her, but whatever she’s about to give I’ll take and decide what to do with it later. 


I’m aware at this point that I have to look happy no matter what it is she gives me. I psyched myself up in my head so I would be ready. Trying to be polite and with enthusiasm I asked, “That’s very kind - maybe something could be of use to me. What is it you are getting rid of?” She paused, as if she hadn’t given it much thought - maybe like me, she thought she’d like to help me out.


After her pause she said, “Well I have these bowls.” She led me to the kitchen and pulled 5 small, brown ceramic bowls out of the cupboard.

In my head I thought, " I have so many bowls! I don’t need any bowls!" but aloud I said "These are perfect for cereal! Thank you." I wasn't lying, they were perfect for cereal. I just left out the part that I did't need cereal bowls. Someone at Goodwill, will love them!


Then she pulled out a blue handmade ceramic colander. She said, “I don’t know why I ever bought this. It was at a craft fair and I wanted to support the artist. I’ve never used it. I knew I would never use it the day I bought and now I know I never will.”

It was beautiful. It was just my taste. I told her my mom had a green one just like it (true story) and I’ve always wanted one (true story).


I didn’t have to lie. In fact, I kind of wanted to cry. I already knew I’d remember this lady, her house, all her books, all the silly stories I made up in my curiosity about her. I would remember how she sparked memories of my childhood and the people in my life.

I still don’t know much about her, but I was right about one thing: I knew she was a lady who would re-gift the things that didn’t suit her style! The blue colander just never worked for her. It surprised me that she kept hold of it for so long but I'm happy she did. I thought I had her pegged. I thought for sure she would have gotten rid of the things she didn’t want as quickly as I got rid of those small, brown bowls that were “perfect for cereal”.

I should probably go back and help her take that stuff to Goodwill and maybe build up the guts to ask her what she does for a living. If I do, I’ll let you know.




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