Thursday, October 27, 2011


I’m a mug collector. I have several coffee mugs that embody my memories of times, places, and people.

My Egypt Cup
My most recent acquisition is my Egypt cup. I bought it early on during my sojourn in Egypt, much earlier than I intended. I had planned to wait for several months, get a feel for the place, then spend days or even weeks perusing cups, only to finally pick the one that best embodied Egypt and my experiences there. Instead, I visited a shop with a friend after a very short time in Egypt, within the first month. The shop contained handicrafts from all over the country: pottery, clothing, bags, jewelry, even tablecloths. As I perused the pottery, a single cup called to me. It did not seem to be representative of Egypt at all. In my mind, Egypt was pyramids and papyrus, sphinxes and canopic jars. This cup had two peacocks on it. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist its siren song. I purchased it, thinking that it was just a nice cup, not part of my “special” collection. I’d add my Egypt cup later. I never did. That was my Egypt cup, somehow coming to embody the country for me.

Jeff's Baby Cup
My second most recent acquisition isn’t mine; it belongs to Jeff. It’s a cup I picked up in the States when I was awaiting Alexa’s birth. I intended to give it to him at the hospital after her birth. “New Daddy, get ready to have your world rattled,” it proclaims, amidst its pastel polka dots. Not very masculine, but very Daddy-ish, appropriate for the new father of a baby girl. When Alexa came early, I forgot to take it to the hospital. I forgot all about it for the week Alexa was in the NICU. When she came home, I remembered it, but never at a good time to give it to him. I finally gave it to him three weeks after her birth, as he was packing to return to Egypt without us.

How does this relate to the title of this post? I’m sure you see it coming.

Today was supposed to be a happy day. It started out as a happy day, with the delivery of one of our four boxes of air freight (the other three somehow ended up in Rome; don’t ask because I don’t know how). They’ll come later. But we didn’t expect to receive any of it so soon, so we were happy to see what arrived. The happiness lasted until the bottom of the box. And then …

Who would pack coffee cups underneath a heavy ceramic trash can? Who would be so stupid?*

The two cups pictured above survived the trip. Others didn’t.

My South Carolina Cup
A cup, picked up at the airport near my hometown, commemorating the home of my heart. Representing my memories of childhood, of growing up in a small town where everyone knows you, or at least knows who your parents are; where your neighbor doesn’t think twice about calling your mom because a boy came over while she was at work; where your little brother can take his bike and ride all over town without a curfew and without fear (but the girls in the family always were required to stay on our street).  The memories remain. The cup is gone. I should be able to replace it. Last time I was in that airport, they still had the mugs. Ten dollars, I think.

My West Virginia Cup
A simple cup, handmade by an artist in West Virginia. Jeff humored me in my search for it, scouring shops and finally following an ad to the artist’s showroom: Gauley River Pottery. The hours we spent in the showroom, searching for just the right shape before settling on the small mug in Gauley Green, although I'd swear mine was bigger than the advertised 3x4 inches, and had more of a curve to it. Only twenty dollars to order a new one online. But will I? Even if it looked exactly the same, could it really replace the one we picked out to represent our honeymoon? Maybe, if I don’t think about the fact that it’s version 2.0, rather than the first one, now broken beyond repair. I know; I tried to piece it back together and couldn’t.

My College Cup
The cup that started it all. A graduation gift from a college professor for whom I did research, specially handmade by one of the art professors. Carried with me to graduate school, where it was used every single day. Embodying the memories of times in the lab at undergrad, joking with the professor and with my lab mates. With me through three years of hard work in grad school; capturing my first experience living on my own, without so much as a roommate. Representing my academic, social, and personal growth through some of my most formative years. Smashed beyond recognition. Irreplaceable. Gone forever.

We were told before we moved to Egypt not to take anything with us that couldn’t be replaced. We listened. We left behind the signature portrait from our wedding, our framed diplomas, my wedding dress. We even left behind the stuffed animals of our childhoods. All safely nestled in a storage unit somewhere in Maryland. But when it came to my coffee mugs, I drew the line. The joy in having them isn’t having them. It’s using them, seeing them and allowing the memories and associations to flood my mind. It was a calculated risk.

I lost.

*One of the cardinal rules of having professional movers is to watch them carefully, both to ensure that nothing goes missing and to ensure that nothing like this happens. We watched them. Unfortunately, due to unusual circumstances that I will not go into, our air freight had to be repacked in transit, while not under our supervision.

Written Tuesday, 18 October 2011.

Update Saturday, 22 October 2011: Apparently Jeff's "New Daddy" mug didn't escape unscathed, either. It has a hairline fracture in it, just enough to let the coffee ooze out, but not enough to be noticed under casual inspection. *Sigh.*


  1. I'm sorry to hear about your cups. I just broke a very special one to me this week, given to me by my psychology teacher when I graduated high school. I haven't yet been able to throw it out. Hope you don't find anything else broken.

  2. Thanks, Ronna. I'm sorry to hear about your cup, too :( Funny how, in one corner of our minds, we can recognize that it's just *stuff*, not that important, yet another part of us realizes that it isn't *just* stuff, because of what it represents.

    Unfortunately, several other things in the box were broken or damaged in some way. About half of the things that could be damaged were. I do not have high hopes that the rest of our things will make it here intact.

  3. Deborah, Another reason I love your blogs is I learn more about you all the time. I don't remember knowing you are a coffee mug collector. Sorry for the losses and damage. Cracked/broken mugs make great pencil/pen holders. I would hold onto the mugs for a while, even in their broken states.

  4. Yes, I'm a collector, but not in the way of some collectors--I don't pick them up from every place we vacation, or ask people to pick them up for me. To me, they're a very special, picked-it-out-myself type of memory keeper. I don't have a large collection by any means, just a few special ones. In addition to the ones profiled here, I have three others, which were put in the HHE, so I don't know their status right now.

  5. We have insurance that will cover the financial aspects of the damage, if the government won't, (they cover up to a very low limit), and if the dollar amount is great enough that we decide that it's worth the potential rise in premiums next year to make the claim this year.


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