Mrs. Cutie Young lives in two rooms and drives a 1982 Ford Country Squire with the wood stickers peeling off, but her silverware collection used to be worth thirty thousand dollars. I say used to because three weeks ago it was stolen right off the mahogany breakfront while she was out. I also should qualify that her house has plenty of rooms she isn’t using, and it is not Cutie Young who drives the Ford but me, her nurse. I do not know why Cutie has a nurse, or why, for that matter, people call her Cutie. She’s mean and stubborn and takes a long time in the toilet but other than that there’s nothing much wrong with her.
I drive her to the Food Lion, to Aylett to go to the doctor, and lately to antique stores and pawnshops to look at silver asparagus servers and ice tongs and oyster forks and what all, glinting pieces of metal as lacy and useless as doilies. The State Farm man offered her the thirty thousand, or to replace what she had with new pieces, but the new pieces don’t approach hers in quality—it’s all hollowware now—and besides, her pieces were not monogrammed but had her married name, Young, written out whole in scripty letters. They came down four generations of Youngs. The pattern is called Imperial Chrysanthemum. It has a bumpy, spiny surface that hurts your hand to hold and is a royal pain in the ass to polish. They don’t make it anymore, though they make plenty just as tacky.
Maybe simplify, I told Cutie, picking up a simple Revere pattern with plenty of room for her name—first and last. The insurance man had brought a whole suitcase of patterns from Richmond to show her. I wanted to open up the dining room for his visit, so he’d have a place to lay them out, but she said the sunporch was good enough for an insurance man. I don’t know a soul who has been good enough for that dining room, or either of the living rooms, since I have worked here. That includes grandchildren, her son, his wife, and the minister. She won’t let him in at all.
She shook her head. Ridiculous, she said, like I was suggesting she eat with plastic forks and knives, or with her toes. You criticizing my taste?
No ma’am, I said, thinking, I’m criticizing your husband’s great-great-somebody’s taste.
The Imperial Chrysanthemum was a beautiful pattern, said Mr. State Farm. He had on a suit. It was so hot on the sunporch that I think he had armpit stains through the wool. One-of-a-kind, he said.
I had to admit it was true.
So we have been all over: to Tappahannock, to Deltaville and Urbanna and Richmond and Gloucester. Her idea is that she will find the set piece by piece at the shops. I say good luck.