Retroladytyping …

Cheers our kid

Nick and Sal.jpg

Aged 6 and 5


My brother and I always refer to each other as Our Kid, joking that it saves remembering each others names.  In truth,  it’s  our way of expressing our love for each other  and appreciation of the fact that we’ve grown up together. 

In a couple of days time, my little brother reaches a significant big zero birthday.  How on earth can that be?  How can he have progressed from the very smart, hand-knitted cardie wearing, hair brushed little boy in that photo, without his big sister noticing?  As the eldest, my job is to keep an eye on such things.  I become distracted for a few decades and he gets all grown-up.  Along the way,  we  acquired a little sister, but we were almost teenagers by that time, so our formative years were spent  together, arguing, making up, fighting – even punching and biting – me, not him.  I wasn’t the most patient and understanding child.    My poor little brother sometimes felt the brunt of that.  Sorry Our Kid.  I hope the scars have healed.

Having survived growing up with two sisters, he has become one of the most reliable, sensible and level-headed people I know.  People who know him describe him as “the salt of the earth” and he is, he really is.  Everyone in his local area knows him.    Walking with him through his village  is never a speedy undertaking.   He’s greeted by all and sundry with a wave and often stopped for a chat, or asked for a favour.  He knows everyone, their families, their history, their jobs and they know, and trust him.  I’m proud of you Our Kid.

We’ve been through some tough times:  the usual stresses and strains of growing up aside,  in the last few years we’ve coped, alongside our  sister, with the illness from dementia  and then the deaths of both our parents.  For a couple of years, our family life was  very unsettled, worrying and even frightening, but through all that Our Kid was the rock in the family.  I know that’s a cliché, and if I can, I shall think of a better metaphor, but he is solid and reliable, so it seems appropriate.  There were quite a few times, when having visited our Mum in hospital,  I phoned him, in tears at what I had seen and heard.  Despite being busy,  (usually under a car – he’s a mechanic)  he took my calls and proceeded to calm me enough so I could drive home safely,  promising that he would phone me at a particular time that evening.  Right on cue, he did.  Thanks Our Kid.

While our parents were ill, he did most of the administrative jobs, methodically, calmly and efficiently, so my sister and I were largely spared the stress of that.  Setting up a Power of Attorney, selling a house, sorting financial matters –  complicated, stressful and not easy, particularly for someone who is known more for his prowess at practical tasks.  Maybe that’s why he could do it so well.  He tackled it  like a project, keeping methodical records,  making lists, ticking tasks off as completed and updating us constantly with progress.  If he wanted help, he asked, but that wasn’t often.   All we had to do was to sign on the dotted line.  That meant we could focus on visiting Mum in hospital, occasionally taking issue with medical professionals and arranging care for her,  knowing that other important tasks were being taken care of. Our roles weren’t always  as arbitrarily divided  as that seems – we shared when necessary, requested or desirable.  We never argued, despite all the emotional and practical strains that having two parents with dementia entails.   He was also the primary visitor for our dad.  I found that difficult for all sorts of reasons, so didn’t go so as often as I should.  He did and took care of their house and garden.  Couldn’t have got through it without you, Our Kid.

I mentioned that he’s a mechanic, and of course he’s the best.  He’s being paid to do something he does so well – mending broken items, as he does people.     He loves his job, loves engines, bikes, his garden, but most of all his family, who are (cliché alert) a credit to him.  It’s a testament to him and my sister-in-law that, despite being grown-up and with busy lives of their own, all his four children visit often, depending on their dad (and mum of course) for advice and a proper Sunday Lunch.  They also rely on him for practical help when setting up their own homes They know, as do I, that he will turn up with his toolbox and fix things, just as he can fix a tearful older sister.  Dependable, that’s Our Kid.   Quite rightly and justifiably,  he is  proud of his family and their achievements.  Well done Our Kid.

Apart from fixing things, his obsession hobby is his bike, cycling and everything which goes with that.  He is definitely A Middle-Aged Man in Lycra and the owner of one of those bikes which weigh next to nothing, has tyres as thin as my little finger and don’t even mention the saddle.  As I write this, I have a vision of him standing at our back door on my birthday, lycra-clad, with his bike leaning up against our fence, holding out a bouquet for me.  He cycles from his home, the long way round of course, to our home with the bouquet in his back-pack most years on or around that day.  I’m not sure what passing motorists make of the sight, but he doesn’t care and neither do I.  I love it.  I’m still worried about that saddle though … and those tyres are never safe, surely?  Ride safely, Our Kid.

Now he’s going to be 60, but he’s still my little brother.  I’m very proud of him, grateful to him for being the reliable, steady, but never boring man he is.  You’re great Our Kid.  Don’t change.  Also don’t stop calling me Our Kid either.  There is little else I’d rather be doing around teatime on a Saturday  than answering the phone and hearing the words “Hello, our kid.  How’s things?”  Half an hour or so later, when we’ve caught up with all our news,  hearing the words “Cheers our kid” and saying them in return,  makes me feel that all is well in our part of the world.   I feel secure knowing that Our Kid is around.  Thanks Our Kid and Happy Birthday.   Love from Our Kid (and Our Kids’ Little Sister and Our Kids and spouses, not forgetting your Great-Nephew) xxx

Tracey, Nick and me.JPG

Big sister, medium brother, little sister








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Magic kisses



magic kisses

Before I get into this post properly, I’ll just say that I’m not writing it so anyone can say anything supportive or reassuring – please don’t; I know the natural response is to say I did my best, but …

Over the past week or so, I’ve had a problem dropping off to sleep … nothing significant, just that I’ve been full of cold, so breathing while lying down has been a challenge.   During the wee small hours, when I was reluctantly awake, I remembered my mum’s magic kisses …

When we three were children and had problems sleeping, we would request, and be given, magic kisses.  These were gentle, barely a touch with her lips, on each eyelid.  The magic was that, once bestowed, we would have to keep our eyes closed till morning.  It worked.  It really did.  My mum had magic powers.  (I’ve mentioned those powers in an earlier post, in relation to her cures-all- ills cakes.)

Some of you will know that Mum died two and a bit years ago, after a struggle with dementia.  She was ill for quite a while before I was strong enough to recognise that and to stop coming up with ‘normal’ reasons for her behaviour, distress and confusion.  In my defence (and that of my two siblings), we did not know much about dementia; in fact we knew next to nothing and what we did know was based purely on hearsay and anecdotal evidence.    We thought it was a natural process of ageing (Mum was 87 when she died) and  meant increasing absent-mindedness.  If only.  We put her  symptoms down to that and her profound deafness – another problem which we didn’t properly address due to differences of opinion with our father.  It was more comfortable for us all to do that.  Once a child always a child maybe, but that’s no excuse.

There were also several major family issues and  history which confused us and meant that we were unable to detach ourselves enough from those and our memories to deal with Mum’s increasing distress.  I wish that I (I won’t speak for my siblings)  had behaved like the grown woman I was, but old feelings were never far below the surface.  I allowed mine to affect how I dealt with a very adult and even frightening situation, in which the balance of power had, or should have, been reversed.    I wish I hadn’t.   I wish I had been stronger.  I would now be able to advise others to do just that, to accept the dramatic changes in family dynamics, but I couldn’t do it myself.  I should have.

I now know that a great deal of Mum’s distress, and the horrific events surrounding her being sectioned could have been avoided.  That long 7 months while she was incarcerated in a secure unit, where she was distraught, hallucinating and clearly extremely frightened, alternating with being seemingly catatonic due to the drugs she needed to keep her safe, might have been avoided.  I, as the so-called ‘sensible one’ of the three,  (the mysterious ‘everyone’ said so; therefore it must have been true) should have taken responsibility and done something before her illness manifested itself so  that there was no safe alternative to her being sectioned with all the horrors that entailed for everyone involved.

My brother had been the  ‘naughty one’ while we were growing up; my sister was very much our baby sister, so I should have been able to take charge.  They have both since  fervently denied that I should feel any more responsible than they  do, but I do.    In fact my brother is seemingly philosophical about Mum’s illness:  it’s happened; it’s past and no point dwelling on the circumstances.  All we can do is learn, realise we did our best and move on.  I wish I could be like that.

Once events had taken their catastrophic turn, we were all equally involved and played to our strengths; my brother dealt with the administrative side (there is a great deal of that); I mostly did hospital visits.  He visited too, but some of Mum’s symptoms and the ways in which her distress manifested itself were extremely difficult for a son to witness.   He did more than his fair share by visiting my father who, by this time, was thoroughly confused, understandably, by the turn events had taken and whose behaviour was consequently difficult to deal with.  I couldn’t; my brother did. Family dynamics and history prevented me.  My sister supported us all especially  when we called for help, even though she lives in a different part of the country.

Thankfully, and largely due to help from a wonderful Community Psychiatric Nurse, Mum’s final few months were spent in a lovely, caring and understanding environment.  Vicky (the CPN) supported us through the process of finding a Nursing Home, where Mum was given the love and respect she deserved, even though she was probably, by then, sadly unaware.  I  eavesdropped shamelessly when the staff were carrying out personal care for Mum and their attitude was always one of complete respect; they maintained her dignity; they showed tenderness and understanding.  They were incredible people.

On my part, however, no amount of visiting Mum, caring, feeding her, comforting her while she was sectioned and after, explaining her needs to those caring for her,  attempting, and mostly failing, to deal with her distress will make up for not being there when she really needed help.   I still feel responsible for how my mother experienced the last few years of her life.   I always will.  Yes, I did what I could at the time, but her extreme distress could and should have been avoided.  Things did not need to get to that point.  If only I had been able to detach myself enough to do what I would now advise anyone else to do.  Recognise there is a problem; disregard family dynamics; ask for help; make a fuss until someone professional listens and that help is given.  There is no cure; there is no treatment, but events don’t have to follow the path they did for my Mum.  There is, however, I have since learned, ways of mediating the dreadful effects of dementia, so that the extreme distress and fear experienced by my Mum can be avoided to some extent at least.  Mum could have been one of the old ladies enjoying being in the sunny garden at the Nursing Home, laughing at the antics of staff playing rounders, as others were one day when we visited.  Mum was in bed, unable to speak or respond at all.  Again … if only.

Just to compound that feeling of not doing what I should have done,  and arguably far, far worse,  I made the wrong decision about my priorities, not quite realising, after a conversation with her Nursing Home, that the 7th January 2014, two days before her 88th birthday,  would be the day she died.  I visited the day before with flowers and cards.   It was convenient; it was a Sunday and after all, I reasoned, Mum wouldn’t know the difference.  Monday 7th  was the first day back at work after Christmas and I didn’t really want to go back; I also didn’t want to ‘use’ my Mum as an excuse for not going back on that first day.

Consequently,   I was not there, even though I’d said I definitely would be.  I didn’t read between the lines of the   telephone call before I left for work.  I questioned my motives and priorities instead and I shouldn’t have.  I should have gone with my gut reaction and been with my Mum when she needed me.  She had been with me, but when she needed magic kisses there were none.  She wasn’t alone; a wonderful Care Assistant was with her and she described how Mum had been when she died  when I went to be with her having had the worst phone call of my life, while I was at work getting my priorities wrong.   She stayed after her shift ended to ask me how I wanted her to be dressed and took the trouble to phone me that evening to say how beautiful Mum had looked when she was taken to the Chapel of Rest.  She didn’t; I know she didn’t; she hadn’t for quite a while which is the harsh reality of dementia,  but it was still lovely of the Care Assistant to reassure me that all was as well as it could be.

Despite all the efforts of that kind, caring person, I will never get that day back.  No amount of  visiting during the time leading up to that day, or too late chats with someone else,  will ever make up for that omission and faulty decision-making.  Hindsight … if only again.

However, despite all that, it struck me while I was struggling to sleep, that it has recently become possible, sometimes even effortless,  to remember happy times, times when having my Mum made me feel safe, warm, comforted and able to experience her magic powers.  Those moments happen without trying and usually when my defences are down, as they were in the early hours. It’s taken a while, but that initial rawness and ongoing guilt is beginning to take a back seat.  I know it won’t always be a straightforward process, but, at last, there is hope.  I will always have regrets, of course I will, but they won’t change anything.  The only thing which can change is how I deal with them.  They are beginning, just beginning, to take their place in the recesses of my mind, while other feelings, memories and gratefulness to the staff at that Nursing Home float to the surface.




The Legacy

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Near our back door we have a broken pot which contains various gardening implements.  These are proper implements, some dating back to the 1950s, as their cracked handles and rust illustrate.  They have been used, neglected, abandoned in the rain, buried in mud and rescued, but never replaced.  Some may be  vintage; some are just plain old; all are useful and are used – frequently.

We acquired them from our parents, now sadly no longer with us.  (Sad, but not tragic – they all lived into their 80s and 90s).  They were all keen gardeners and we were lucky enough to be given free run of their garages and garden sheds.  We toyed with the idea of a car boot sale but these, and other,  old, damaged, but still useful tools now stored in the garage, had much more than monetary value for us, and still do.  I’m not sure where old ends and vintage begins, but these items are more valuable than they look.

Young and old hands have grasped those handles over many years, dug, tugged, raked and hoed to produce gardens which, we think, were worthy of more than a Chelsea medal.  Those gardens  fed us, entertained us while we ‘helped’ as children, kept us busy and out of mischief and gave our parents a hobby well into their old age, as well as providing a sanctuary  when indoor life became too much to deal with.

Now they are used by us and our siblings in an attempt to create a similar place, with varying degrees of success.  It can safely be said that I am an enthusiastic gardener, but will never have the skills demonstrated by my parents, or in-laws.  However each time I grasp one of those muddy damaged handles and use that rusty trowel, I remember them and their gardens; each time I use that extra large, and very strong, yard broom, I bless them; each time my husband uses his work bench, customised with old lino,  and vice  – old and very, very heavy – which he inherited from his father, he remembers his dad.  I’m not quite sure why he needs a vice; I’ve never seen him use it, but he loves it and insisted on transporting it and the workbench from his dad’s garage to ours, enlisting the help of a neighbour to heave it into position.

There is a rusty sweet tin in our garage,  which used to belong in the Aladdin’s cave of my father-in-law’s garage.  It contains all manner of nails, screws, tacks and even the occasional rusty coin.  I have briefly considered going through it, sorting out what is useful, and replacing the rusty tin, but I can’t; I just can’t, any more than I could replace the several trowels, rakes and forks which we have by the back door.


forget me not




Mother’s pride

Mother's Pride

This post is not going to contain any profound thoughts (Do they ever?  I think not).  I am just feeling the effects of a very large amount of Mother’s Pride today and  need to share it around a little bit …

Our older little boy (I think of him like that, but he is pushing 37 years old – ouch!) ran the London Marathon today in a time of 3 hours 48 minutes and a few seconds.  However, his time isn’t really the point.  It is to him and he wanted to do a better time, but then he always wants to push himself harder and further every time he takes on any challenge.

He probably won’t read this, so I’m safe, but none of this has come easily to him.  He first started running (and cycling and swimming) because he loves cake more than is good for his health or  shape.  The choice was to give up cake and sit around, or eat more cake and start moving.  He opted for the latter and, being him, did it with style and attitude and then some.

Firstly he learned to bake his own cakes, so building up a stock in case of empty cake tin syndrome. He then started moving – a lot.

His training consisted of cycling 15 miles each way to work, several long distance cycle races, including a mountainous section of the Tour de France, Parkruns every Saturday, increasingly lengthy training runs and several Marathons and Triathlons, but always the London Marathon had eluded him.  Having succeeded in the ballot last year, injury prevented him running.    This year with all systems go he did it!

He’s fought his way back from injury, coped with a very busy job, started a lunchtime running club at work and continued to train, always focussing on what he saw as The Big One, the Virgin London Marathon.    Only he would use an Iron-Man Triathlon as training for the London Marathon.  If he’s going to do something, he’s going to try to do  it well, and push himself to his limits; he’s always been like that, determined, even stubborn, especially if things become difficult, which is why (and this is the bit he won’t want to read, although I hope he may be secretly pleased) I am a Very Proud Mum today.

Almost forgot to add – he also managed to raise well over £400 for Hart Wildlife Rescue – a cause near to his and our daughter in law’s hearts.

Well done, Matthew.  (and yes, I will start ParkRunning soon … one day … stop nagging me!)

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Dr Who, dementia and an orange


Those who know me will not be surprised to see the word dementia in the title of this piece, but probably not Dr Who or an orange.  I will attempt to explain:

My  Mum had dementia and my family witnessed her decline from this awful illness at close quarters.  At first we thought it was part of old age:  memory problems affect most of us to some extent.  However, it became clear that this was more than ‘old age’.  Her memory lapses were only part of the illness.  Anyone with experience of dementia, either personally or as a relative, will know that the person as we know them i.e. their personality, what makes them their unique selves, gradually disappears.   This happens while their physical self seems unchanged, for a time at least.    Mum was still Mum on the outside, but parts of her brain were gradually becoming damaged, so she did not seem like Mum.  We didn’t realise what was happening inside her.  We just knew that she was behaving differently and, above all, was frightened and confused. We saw her fear in her eyes, but we couldn’t deal with it.  We were frightened too; the unknown is frightening and our Mum wasn’t behaving as our Mum always had anymore.

The point of this post is to highlight a video made by Christopher Eccleston (hence the Dr Who part of the title) with Aardman Animations,  using an orange to illustrate the physical nature of this awful illness.

Each segment of the brain (orange) gradually becomes damaged until there is nothing left.  The presentation of the illness depends on which part becomes damaged and so affects perception, memory and behaviour.   When the illness becomes apparent to others,   there may be the feeling that, if only the person tries harder, calms down, rests, or just damned well listened to those caring for them, they could ‘sort themselves out’ and stop being ‘difficult.’  That was our experience, but I know, from talking with others since,  that it’s common to think that people with dementia can be reasoned with.  It’s not the illness; it’s them or, even worse, us.  We certainly used to repeat things many times (trying to conceal our sighs)  to Mum in the hope that we could convince her of reality.  You develop a lot of patience when you know someone with dementia, alternating with periods of complete exasperation for Mum and us.

I wish we had realised  that dementia is an irreversible physical illness then, rather than several years too late.  We would all have had a better experience of its effects, Mum most of all, because we wouldn’t have argued with her or tried to convince her of unimportant things like the correct day of the week.  Did it really matter?  Probably not, no, but we felt it did then.  We needed our Mum to be our Mum,  as she always was.  No matter how grown-up and seemingly mature we were, we still needed to be sure of our Mum.  Anything else is frightening.  It was for us; I can’t begin to imagine how it must have been for her.  Terrifying I would think; I fervently hope not, but I fear it was.

I think that the realisation that it is a physical illness, caused by damage to the brain, might help to remove some of the fear and exasperation.  In the same way as you wouldn’t expect an orange to reverse its decay (I was trying to avoid using that word, but I can’t think of a better one to illustrate the permanency of dementia),  it is far better and less stressful to accept the way things are and focus on what is left, so everyone benefits.  Physical illness is, arguably, easier to accept  practically and emotionally,  than an illness which shows itself as a change in behaviour with no visible cause.  That’s why the image of an orange slowing losing its segments is so powerful for me.

One (wonderful) day a cure will be found for dementia.  Until then I think that understanding it as an irreversible progressive physical condition is a huge step towards dealing with its effects.

Understanding and acceptance doesn’t mean giving up though … the Alzheimer’s Society website, link below, is full of information,   resources and coping mechanisms,  as well as offering unconditional understanding and support through its Talking Point forum.









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A Myriad of Moons


After much planning, discussion, messaging on Facebook, texting and  speaking in the real world, an unusual lunar event took place in Bath on New Year’s Eve 2015 at just past noon.

To explain:  my mother was one of eight siblings born to Stan and Lily Moon over 20 or so years from the 1920s to the 1940s.  This means I am privileged to be part of a constellation of Moon descendants – some of whom have moved to other galaxies (Australia) and various parts of Great Britain and Ireland,  some of whom haven’t strayed too far from the mother-ship in South-West England, but we hadn’t been in regular contact due to busy lives filled with work,  travel and such things.

However, a series of events, sadly funerals being one of them, a Golden Wedding, the advent  of the internet and the much maligned Facebook have motivated and enabled us to become friends as well as relatives.  It’s a cliché to say you can’t choose your family, while you can choose your friends, but I can honestly say that all of us have become friends, despite the intervening years.  We shared confidences, jokes and tastes in music,  through the internet and by phone,  but had never been able to meet in one place, with our spouses, children and partners.  Something always seemed to intervene with any plans.

However, during the latter end of 2015, one my many cousins, who lives partly in Norfolk and partly in France, floated the idea of her visiting us during New Year – the idea being that she, and her husband,  would travel to each of our homes for a brief visit.  The logistics of that seemed unnecessarily complicated, so we tentatively suggested a meal with as many of us as possible in Bath.  A flurry of texts, Facebook messages, telephone calls etc revealed that this was just what we’d all been waiting for.  The enthusiasm was palpable.

There were some anxieties (there is necessarily a wide age range, from 6 year olds to 70+).  Would it work with some of us having been out of contact since our Weddings?  Some of the younger members had never met the more senior relations.  Would everyone even want to come as the time grew nearer and Christmas and New Year commitments were arranged?   A venue was chosen and agreed, menus were circulated and all was well.  As time went on, some needed to drop out, some added, but the final figure of 25 was settled.

The result was one of the most enjoyable occasions I have ever had the pleasure to be part of.  Everyone talked, in groups, in couples, to people they hadn’t met, or not for some time. The children behaved impeccably and were confident enough to talk with any of us and tell us about their achievements and interests, even patiently showing us non-techies how to access films on their phones.    There were photographs (one of our number has one of those all-action cameras, so knows what he is doing).  One of us brought Moon nightlights for all of the direct Moon descendants.  Several of us ladies wore Moon-themed jewellery.  There was much hugging  and kissing (with feeling not because it is what people do nowadays), comments on family likenesses, shared memories of those who have passed away and reminiscences of shared family events.

It all came together as planned.

What wasn’t planned was the feeling of well-being I felt as we drove home.  Facebook photographs and comments only tell half the story.  I can’t put a name to the feeling really:  the Facebook feelings option includes “blessed”, but that is not enough.  It is truly wonderful to be a member of such a group of people.

We said we would repeat it as people do on these occasions, but I know we mean it.  We are very lucky that we all truly love and care for each other.  There are differences in attitudes, beliefs and  political allegiances of course, but they don’t matter.  We are blessed and, as our family grows and we meet again, we will feel that blessing again and again.

(Thank you to Las Iguanas in Bath, and any other customers that day – we did rather take over the place!)





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“Alchemy: a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination … with attempts to convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir.”


To me, baking  is alchemy, not in the sense of transforming base metals into gold, unless I have been misreading the recipe,  but in the sense of taking individual chemicals, combining them and adding  heat   so transforming them into something  unique and desirable.


My mother had magical powers.

She  knew when I had had a bad day at school: had fallen out with my best friend, been told off by my favourite teacher, or been caught in the rain on the way home and just needed something to make me feel the world wasn’t totally against me.  While I trudged home, I just wanted to feel comforted, loved and warm inside and out.

As I opened the back door, I would  be greeted by a wave of  sweet spiced, vanilla warmth; the kettle would be on, my favourite willow patterned plate would be on the table, almost covered in a crispy edged (I still like it like that) slice of dried fruit speckled, sugar topped cake. On a particularly bad day, she would have left a few spoonsful of uncooked mixture which just had to be removed from the bowl before it was washed.   I can see, smell and almost taste it as I write.  The fire would be lit; drier clothes would be airing.  There was no need to talk or even think about my day.  How did Mum know what I needed before the days of mobile phones?  Magic.

Today, while The Husband was carrying out his festive hunter-gathering mission, I was at a loose end and feeling just a little lonely.   I wondered, did I have the makings of a cake in the cupboard?  Yes.  Apron on, baking tins lined, food mixer rescued from the dusty depths of the cupboard behind the back door.  Now to recreate that magic.

I did it all just as Mum did:  chose my elements, mixed, stirred, beat, whisked, spread, applied heat and waited, while the chemical transformation took place.   The smell was the same, the result appeared to be  the same, but it wasn’t  the same.  I’d even sprinkled edible golden glitter on the top  (Well, it’s nearly Christmas); it was crispy at the edges;  I’d  ‘accidentally’ left a spoonful of mix in the bowl to taste, but something was different. There was a missing element.  I can’t find it in any recipe book or periodic table.

My mother would have had that missing element.  I don’t.  I do, however, have that willow patterned plate.