Katarina’s Water Pitcher

This is a guest post from Rachelle, who has been writing for over 13 years (but is brand new to the blogging scene). She graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and has written for several Utah magazines, parenting websites and other odds and ends. She keeps her days busy with three kids ages 10, 6 and 3, a turtle and a busy husband. Every spare moment she finds is filled with gardening, writing and reading.


We all have things that hold memories just waiting to be poured out – memories of yesterday, today, tomorrow. For me, it always comes back to a simple antique water basin and pitcher bedecked in nothing more than a creamy porcelain shift worn lustrous by the decades of busy hands gliding over its aged curves.

Who knows how many stories it has to tell or how long it has found itself useful to some motherly purpose. My family moved nine times, but whether it was a home in Franktown, Colorado or York, Pennsylvania, I always remember the pitcher sitting on that gatherer of keepsakes, the dining room hutch. Sometimes the heirloom stood proud and dignified like an old woman who has never forgotten her youth or the days that followed. To me it was a regal, yet unpretentious relic of my great-grandmother, Katarina, who was made of solid stuff. I can almost see her pour fresh water into the basin at the early break of day, just moments before dawn arrived on the horizon; a daily baptism to scrub her face clean.

Did she first own the pitcher in a village somewhere in the Volga region of Russia before she bundled up her young family for an ocean adventure that would carry her away from her homeland, away from her memories and persecution of her German people in a land bristling with revolution? Perhaps, it was a gift to the farmwife she became in a valley in Berthoud, Colorado. Did she use it to splash freshness and hope on each day of hard work as a farmer’s wife and the mother of fifteen? I wonder if that basin still rested on my great-grandmother’s nightstand when my own mother spent her childhood summers at the farm, now run by one of the sons. The granddaughter would brush out her grandmother’s waist-length chestnut hair, lightning-marked by one wayward streak of gray. The rhythm of the brush would pull through the formidable mane as great grandma babbled on in low-German; the only language Katarina ever spoke; pouring stories into the duty-bound granddaughter’s ears.

Somehow, the pitcher found its way to one of the daughters of that widespread brood. I wonder if it was a wedding gift to Helen, my grandmother. Helen died when my mother was nine years old. A brain tumor stole her from her two sons and my mother. Perhaps it was given to Helen’s sister, Margaret, who became more than just an aunt to my mother, Marlene. She became her mother teaching her to become a woman. The creamy antiquity once again changed owners and became one of the only heirlooms my mother received – her inheritance. And so it has been there in my childhood home as my mother bustled her way through the raising of six kids, the loving of an energetic husband and service to dozens of other children those six kids called friends.

Six kids trail along a heap of clutter and sometimes the pitcher and basin did not set there tidy. It was the safe place for lunch money tucked inside, important trinkets or extra house keys. In my teenage years, when life seemed full of little causes to be fought on a daily basis, I managed to bolster a hefty dose of righteous indignation at the misuse of the sacred pitcher and its companion basin. Yet, several times each week some hand, (usually Mom’s) dipped its fingers over the edge of the bowl searching for the precious items that gathered there.

I no longer see the pitcher every day but 16 years, three children and one husband later I still think of that basin full of stories. I realize it has never felt the disuse of dusty neglect because my mother was drawn to pour out her own daily ministrations from its confines. As my own daughter finds her way onto my lap I think of why I gave her the middle name Katarina after that great-grandmother – Russian/German immigrant, farmwife of steel, and breeder of fifteen. I imagine and remember the stories poured down from one generation to the next – the inheritance of a woman who splashed hope on her face each new day.

Katarina is a hero in our home. She was strong and beautiful I tell my daughter, as if reminding her that she too is strong and beautiful. But I wonder, is it enough to hear you are strong and beautiful? How do I teach her strength? How do I teach her what is beautiful? There will be times she feels weak and soon she will feel too self conscious to look at her self in the mirror and announce out loud that she looks cute. My other daughter is always telling me she is a princess. “Yes, you are,” I tell her hoping she never forgets. I tell Katarina’s story over and over again, reminding them beauty comes from strength not lip gloss and plastic bauble bracelets. I do not have a pioneer past. Pioneer stories just don’t resonate with me the way they do with so many church members. My parents were both teenage converts. Still, I am grateful for the trail of women in my past, women of simplicity, duty, strength. I feel their example, their heritage course through my days.

I cannot help but wonder, will my daughters look back some day and see my daily ministrations of motherhood as something worth passing down — their own inheritance? My mother’s giggle, her sacrifices, her strength, dress my mother in beauty every day, even as the years begin to take away her youth. I can never forget her daily ministrations. They like Katarina’s water pitcher only grow more lustrous with age. My mother’s endurance through twice the number of children I have, my Grandmother Helen’s endurance and strength as a single mother and Katarina’s sacrifices and strength with more children than I ever care to imagine and a farm full of other living things crying out for attention have instilled me with hope. Hope to stand strong and beautiful as one of my Heavenly Father’s daughters. Hope to pass to both my daughters for they come from a strong and beautiful people. This is our inheritance.

5 thoughts on “Katarina’s Water Pitcher

  1. This was beautiful. I love how objects can tie us to the past. I come from a line of women who have loved fine dishes; consequently, I have crystal glasses that belonged to my grandmother’s grandmother in my hutch. I can hear my grandma’s voice telling me about how she would go to her granmother’s house as a little girl to dust and wash windows. It’s almost strange to me that my grandma dusted these same glasses as a little girl.

    I’m sure your daughter will remember the stories you are telling her. What a blessing.

  2. i hope to teach my daughters strength, too. and that they are both the summation of what they come from and what they can be… because i certainly don’t have any relics to pass on to them.

    beautifully written!

  3. Beautiful. Was Katarina Jewish? When did she immigrate? I do a little genealogy on that region of Russia, partiuclarly about the German and/or Jewish families now and again and am curious. What was her last name?

  4. Katarina was not Jewish. She was from the Volga region of Russia and her married name was Sterkel.
    Melissa – I love that you have heritage dishes. I know I said that pioneer stories don’t always resonate with me but the story about the dishes being used in the temple really strikes a chord with me. I just got a set of silver from my husband’s 96 year old Nana and I think this is so cool.

Comments are closed.