In the new novel The Dutch House, Ann Patchett’s main characters are forced to evacuate their home with a stepmother imploring them to vacate immediately. Shocked by her pronouncement after their father’s sudden death, they grabbed a few essentials and fled.

One of the characters reflects: “The idiocy of what we took and what we left cannot be overstated. We packed up clothes and shoes I would outgrow in six months, and left behind the blanket at the foot of my bed my mother had pieced together out of her dresses. We took the books from my desk and left the pressed-glass butter dish in the kitchen that was, as far as we knew, the only thing that had made its way from that apartment in Brooklyn with our mother. I didn’t pick up a single thing of my father’s, though later I could think of a hundred things I wished I had…”

The butter dish resonated with me as I think of all the things in my home and my parents’ former home that have meaning but wouldn’t likely be at the top of the “grab and go” list. I’m sure those fleeing the hurricanes, war or fires don’t grab the butter dish but later would have treasured it. Those things we use every day – so don’t even see anymore – often evoke the strongest memories when we are without them.

For me, the “butter dish” may be the trusty “popcorn pan” that I originally didn’t want because of all the burnt kernels that scarred the bottom, but now signify the multitude of memories that popped out of it. Take a walk around your house today and consider what is the equivalent of your butter dish. Hopefully, you never have to grab it in flight, but just acknowledging the role it plays in the story of your life should bring a smile.

Source: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, 2019, p. 97


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