Ellen Silverman
Ellen Silverman

Nearly a year ago at the Thanksgiving dinner of friends, Louise Randolph brought me a handmade pot she’d had for many years. The rough-hewn pot, improvised out of a coffee can, some wire and a piece of wood, had belonged to her late great aunt Eva Dahlgren. Eva grew up in a privileged home, and gave it all up when she volunteered to help refugees in France during World War II, an act of sacrifice that almost cost her her life. She refused to leave France when the Nazis began to close in, and held in an internment camp, in Baden Baden, for over fifteen months. This pot was one of a few possessions she brought from the camp upon her release. Even though Louise guards it as a treasured possession, it’s a bit of a mystery. Louise doesn’t know if Eva made the pot, or how she came by it, or even if she ever used it. What she does know, she told me in an email, is that

“…that little pot tells more than one story. There is a story of its creation and life in Baden Baden…and/or there is the story of Eva…that is recounted in a pamphlet: ‘Anne Morgan, Eva Dahlgran, Rose Dolan, and The Aid They Brought to French Refugees 1939-1949’. It gives a clear account of the courageous work Eva did before and after internment, and a description of the harsh conditions during, when food, gas, clothing and other necessities were in desperately short supply.

When you hear the breadth of Eva’s privilege pre-war, and the material possessions – some of very great value  – belonging to her throughout her life, it is both a wonder, and an incredible key to her interior world, that this pot has now lived past her.”

My friend Louise may never know the details of the pot, but she knows the feelings that that simple pot evokes:

“When I look at it, it is a reminder of war, loss, finding, using and sharing.”

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6 replies on “coffee-can pot as mystery + reminder

  1. What a lovely story. And the pot has a melancholy to it — I almost want to make one for myself.

  2. I agree, it is a wonderful story and if I was a writer it would be the beginning of a wonderful novel. I wish I could write it, my imagination tells me there is quite a story here.

  3. That’s a great story and an amazing memento. I love items with mystery – it seems even more special when there is enough of a story missing for one to fill in the details with imagination.

  4. Beautiful and evocative. A story of remembrance of sacrifice, generosity that reminds me to be thankful for all that I have around me.
    Thank you.

  5. Beautiful pot and the story that it carries is important. Important too to point out that pot is an example of what American hobos have made for years, known as a “bail”. Made from whatever tin can was around.They afforded cooking vessels that did not need to be transported with you. When you got to where you went you made an another out of what ever you found, or you used the one that the last fellow had left behind. I have seen some in hobo camps of the early sixty’s that were even made as double boilers.

  6. Matthew, you are such a trove of info. This adds so much to the post. Thank you!

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