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Lions Roar : March 2013
Sozan, a Chinese Zen master, was asked by a student: “What is the most valuable thing in the world?” The master replied: “The head of a dead cat.” “Why is the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the world?” inquired the student. Sozan replied: “Because no one can name its price.” IN THE HOUSE I GREW UP IN, there are four cups in the left corner of the topmost shelf of the pantry. All the other shelves are filled with spices and herbs, boxes of pasta in different shapes, assorted tea bags, and everything you might need to make molas- ses cookies or a birthday cake. Anything you might need to season a rack of lamb or marinate chicken thighs. But amid all of these things, or rather, above all of these things and to the left, are the cups. They sit in a row; they have sat there for years. And even though a cup is not a bottle of vinegar or a bag of rolled oats, they seem to belong. The cups have faces on them. They aren’t cutesy faces. They are faces with long, skinny noses, wide-flared nostrils, a wink- ing eye, a bushy, raised eyebrow. They are faces with curly mus- taches and parted lips. They are weird faces. But they are also familiar, comforting faces because my grandma made them. She made that dimple with the tips of her old fingers. She pinched the bridge of that nose between her forefinger and thumb until it was thin and straight. My grandma made beautiful things out of clay. Not just pots and cups and bowls, but sculptures too—even kitchen sinks. Maybe it seems juvenile to believe that your grandma could do anything. But I’m not a child, and that’s what I believe. She could bake half-moon cookies. She could build a doll- house. She could make spinach roll-ups with lasagna noodles and ricotta cheese. She could fix a wicker chair with a hole through the seat. She could knit a sweater, plant a garden, and weave a basket. She could shoot a rifle. She could finish a difficult crossword puzzle in one sitting at the kitchen table. She could give birth to six boys and one girl and then raise them all in a little white country house. My grandma is my dad’s mom. My dad told my mom (and my mom told me) that my grandpa once gave my grandma a black eye. The woman who could usually be seen bustling around the house—painting a desk or wallpapering the living room—was still after that. She sat in an armchair in the living room. She drew the curtains shut and sat in the dark. When the sun went down, she sat in a darker dark. She sat in silence. She sat there, in that chair, in the dark, without speaking, until the bruise around her eye lightened and disappeared. It is strange to think that a woman who could render the per- fect likeness of her father with a paintbrush would let a man The Most Valuable Cups in the World LEANORA MCLELLAN’S grandma handed down many skills and four crazy cups that have no price. PHOTOBYCHUCKSALVATORE SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 29