Mugs Full of Memories

Our favorite mugs. My go-to mug is the second from the left.

The inside of my favorite mug is not pretty and it's probably leaching lead into my brain.

One of my oldest and dearest friends is still pretty on the outside but dangerously cracked inside.  I’m wondering whether I should end the relationship but keep putting the thought out of my mind.

I’ve had this flowered coffee mug for at least two decades now.   I look inside it and see a spidery network of tiny cracks, resembling a parched riverbed after several seasons of drought.   No doubt the mug is leaching lead into my morning brew every day, and caffeine is pumping it efficiently into my brain.  But the cascade of coffee quickly hides the cracks and then I forget about the dangers.

Can’t remember who gave it to me.  It was not part of a set, but something passed on to me, once used by someone else. The mug and I bonded instantly.  I reached for it day after day and packaged it carefully when I moved to New England 14 years ago. Sometimes, even when bleary-eyed at 5:45 a.m.,  I bypass other clean mugs and wash this one because somehow the coffee tastes better in it.  This thick stoneware vessel is the perfect shape for holding coffee – with its wide and stable bottom, tapering top and sturdy handle.

Moreover, it has the name “Julia” inscribed in the bottom.  It’s probably the name of a series of dishes from Stonecrest, the company that made it.  Maybe it was the name of the dishware designer’s wife or daughter.  But Julia is also the name of my beloved sister, who lives five hours away.  So this mug is the next best thing to having her with me each morning for sharing secrets and gossip, skewering politicians and waxing poetic over food.

While sister Julia still looks gorgeous at midlife, Julia the mug is starting to show its age.  The handle has a hairline crack and another, wedge-shaped crack.   It is only one fall away from being shattered and useless.

Fortunately we have other mugs that we love.  Only a few of our mugs match and we like it that way.  Along with savoring our coffee we can savor the memories that each mug evokes.  Our mugs are a ragtag and faded lineup but we proudly use them when serving guests.  I  never understood matching sets of mugs.

My husband’s Penn State mug, which I gave him several years ago, is his favorite.  It’s big and blue and manly, and drinking from it feels like having Franco Harris deliver your coffee.  I never drink from it when Bob is home, but sometimes if he’s away on business I use that mug and it helps me feel like he is across the table from me.  Another mug, which is now 15 years old, has the peeling image of the Maryland Science Center on its face.  It’s a souvenir from a very special time at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor with son Ryan, who is nearly 24 now.  The James Madison University mug was a gift from daughter Rachel eight years ago when she was a freshman there; the mug from California’s Diederich Coffee was a gift from Ben, 25; a newer mug features artwork from John, 13.   A much bigger mug – a gift from Bob and John for Mother’s Day – is exclusively for tea.

But Julia, my favorite…I can’t even remember how she came to me!  I vaguely remember another mug from the same manufacturer, perhaps a cousin, that looked somewhat like Julia but with straight sides.  The cousin broke a few years after I acquired it but it was never a real favorite anyway.  As long as she lasts, I’ll enjoy coffee every morning with Julia – the friend who asks for nothing but is always there for me.  When she shatters – and I know it will happen some day – I will mourn.

What’s your favorite mug? What makes it so special?  Please share your thoughts, and pix!

14 thoughts on “Mugs Full of Memories

  1. Oh, yeah! My favorite (because it was so appropriate at the time) was a big seller with a ridiculous cartoon bird. The message was “It’s hard to fly like an eagle when you work with turkeys. I imagine those have been passed from friend to friend for years as each of us overcomes the flock or moves on.

  2. Uncle John and I have two favorite mugs which we have used every morning for the past 18 years. We went on a trip with my dear Aunt Stella to Mystic Conn- . The room we stayed in was lovely and also had a beautiful well equipped kitchen. There was a set of plain white heavy coffee mugs which we all enjoyed our morning coffee in during our stay.
    Upon arriving home my Aunt Stella took two mugs out of her suitcase and presented them to us – yes she took them from the hotel because she knew we liked them so much!
    Every morning as I drink my coffee I think of her – memories are wonderful!

  3. What a GREAT story! I know how special Aunt Stella was to you and so glad you have the mugs to remind you.

  4. Go Dukes! I am a JMU alum so loved seeing that mug featured in your post! That was a nice ‘wake up’ for me! Mugs are not meant to match! I agree completely! Loved the post!

    • My daughter fell in love with JMU the first minute we visited. People are so friendly there. We missed the start of a group tour of the new biotech building, and when the department head found us wandering aimlessly down the hallways he dropped what he was doing and took us on a private tour himself. That would never happen in Boston!

  5. I loved this post. I am similarly attached to mugs and choose mine carefully each morning. A few years ago, while in Mendocino, I bought a beautiful blue mug and had a nice conversation with the mug’s maker (who thirty years earlier had taught my husband to make leather belts) about mugs as life mementos. As I read your post, I was drinking coffee from that mug. Nice to start the day with a memory. Thanks for inspiring it.

  6. I have this set of 4, scratch that, 3 glasses. They are Coca-Cola dinner glasses, and they are dark pewter gray, the look mirrored. Coca-Cola is written in a glittery text. I bought them when I was 16 in a store where I worked selling nostalgic items. They were ridiculously over priced and my friend asked me what I was going to do with them. “I am going to save them til I grow up and have my own house!” And I did, and in that house, they sat on a shelf so they would never get broken, because they were SO expensive ($40, in 1992, for the 4 of them!!). Funny, I lost touch with that friend for many years, and about a year ago we reconnected. The other day as we were remodeling our kitchen, I texted my old friend a pic of the glasses and said “Forget it, I think we’re gonna finally drink out of them!” And so that’s what I have been doing…. (Wish it were possible to put a pic in a comment!)

  7. I guess I’m not the only one who has a favorite mug. My sister gave it to me years ago. It is the perfect size and shape for a big mug of milky tea. I think of my sister every time I use the mug and, I think of our old scottie dog Muggsy as it is decorated with hearts and scottish terriers. No one else is allowed to drink from this mug. Once I dropped the mug and my heart stopped until I saw it wasn’t broken nor chipped. I know I will cry if that day ever comes.

  8. Cath,
    What a great blog. We have tons of mismatched mugs, including one that was your Dad’s that once had “Nikon Specialist” written on it. He gave it to me when I became the owner of a Nikon camera. But it spent too many cycles in the dishwasher and the writing is gone. I know that Tom likes to use it for his ice cream on Friday nights.

    Just a couple of Sundays ago, Dan drank coffee from a mug that I think you bought him way back when we were PSU students. (Blue, sailboats, sound familiar?) We also have several “Church Street” mugs we inherited when Mom moved. We make sure they are on the table when we pour the Sunday evening coffee and Mom is with us.

    My absolute personal favorite is a 16 oz. “Villanova Mom” mug which Danny bought me when he was a freshman. Dan prefers his stainless steel travel mug, which keeps his coffee “piping” hot.

    Our favorite time in the morning is 6 am when we have our morning meeting on our side porch with our coffee cups in hand!

    Thanks for the great writing!


  9. I totally understand! There’s a tiny bowl I eat out of whenever I go home… everything tastes sweeter out of it!

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