When I was fresh out of college I would go see mom every few weeks. Our visits centered around how we would make money, long term and short. In the short term we needed money to go out to eat at night.
We always began by ferreting through the truncated silverware in mom’s old sideboard, to pawn them for change. Silver spoons beheaded by dishwashers. Dented silver napkin rings, a baby spoon broken in two. Items that would never be missed but that had scrap value and would buy us another dinner at El Coyote, where we would daze dreamily over wine and cigarettes. Like children we kept our faith that there would always be endless redeemable scraps.
Our life’s battles had been different, but our mutual survival made us susceptible to short-term indulgences and a semi-hysterical sense of humor about nearly everything. We were like crazy fourteen-year old girls with a private language that brought us collapsing into laughter.
“What’s this? I withdrew a demi-tasse cup with broken silver fringe. Not enough to buy dinner. I stuck my hand in again and felt. I reached a small baggie whose contents clinked like a handful of jacks.
“Good glory,” mom muttered, as if she were looking at an old picture of herself in a bikini. “My silver fillings! I always made the dentist give them back to me. Let’s trade them in!” she said without hesitation.
The baggie full of silver fillings made me sad. We were stripping mom like an old car. But she hadn’t a speck of nostalgia or embarrassment.
I would drive because she hated to drive. She would go in because I couldn’t. I watched her leave with the few pieces of silver in hand and said to her in my deepest gangster voice as if I was the getaway driver, “Just get the money!”
Mom snorted wonderfully and regained her composure in time to make the trade—a broken demi-tasse and a handful of fillings. She returned from the shop grinning. “I got the money!” she said in her own gravelly gangster voice.
It became our pet phrase in the future for whenever we were going up against any adversity or something we feared. “Just get the money!” we’d say, and then laugh.
I told her, “Just get the money!” when she went in for exploratory surgery. She repeated it back to me as they wheeled her away. “Just get the money!”
My friend recently inherited her mother’s full tea set complete with tea bag rest and sugar tongs. I couldn’t help but think that it was nowhere near as useful as my mother’s silver: tarnished, beautiful and uncompromisingly authentic.
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