I spent this morning unpacking, washing, and putting away my mother’s American Beauty china. It was a meditative time as I stood at the kitchen sink gently washing, rinsing, and drying each dish. Remembering.
Mom kept her treasured china in a cabinet and brought it out only for special occasions like birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas or when friends came to visit and she served tiny triangular-shaped egg salad sandwiches, homemade cookies and squares, and Red Rose Orange Pekoe tea.
When our family moved from Saskatchewan to a brand new house in British Columbia she bought a special corner cabinet to store her dishes in. For a time, after her unexpected death at age fifty-five, that cabinet had a place of honour in my home, as did her beautiful American Beauty china that I arranged exactly the same way she had.
For years, I set my Christmas table with those dishes and, when the meal was over and everyone was full of turkey and dressing, I shooed them from the kitchen so I could wash and dry the dishes myself. I trusted no one to take the same special care of the dishes as I did. If any piece got broken, I said, I’d rather break it myself than have someone else do it.
In time I found myself moving into a new home and with the means to buy a new china cabinet of my own. I was pleased to give the American Beauty china a place of prominence in my larger cabinet and continued to bring it out for Christmas dinner every year.
In recent years the treasured dishes have languished in the cabinet though, relegated to the role of being decoration only. Occasionally, thought not nearly often enough, I’ve lifted the pieces gingerly from the cabinet to wash them but, for the most part, they’ve rested on the shelves, observing as life moved on.
I wonder, now and then, what will ultimately happen to the china. As we prepared for our recent move I even considered leaving the carefully-packed china in boxes and storing them downstairs when we got here. China like this is generally not as popular with people as it once was–certainly, my children aren’t interested in having it.
This morning as I washed, rinsed, and dried the dishes I pictured the Christmas table of my childhood: bowls filled with fluffy whipped potatoes, yellow mashed turnip, overcooked green peas dotted with butter and salt and pepper. I imagined the gravy boat filled with perfect turkey gravy with not a lump to be found. I remembered the sterling silver cutlery we used at Christmas–shining and freshly polished for the occasion.
I recalled homemade peanut butter cookies, matrimonial squares, and whipped shortbread cookies. I could almost taste warm Christmas plum pudding in dishes drizzled with brown sugar sauce, and feel the agony in my belly as I swallowed just one more bite, full though I still was from Christmas dinner.
For a time, as the sun shone though the kitchen window and my hands washed the dishes she had once treasured it was as if my mom was with me. I imagined her laughter, I almost heard her whisper in my year. On the mover’s inventory the dishes were listed as “high value items” because of their monetary value but “high value” doesn’t begin to describe how feel about them. Every platter, plate, bowl, saucer, and tea cup, each salt and pepper shaker is priceless to me.
This afternoon, I’m pondering tea parties with my granddaughters–tiny sandwiches and herbal tea served on American Beauty china. Making memories. Perhaps, the appreciation for fine china will skip a generation and one day they’ll stand at their own kitchen sink washing, rinsing, and drying the dishes with the same reverence I felt this morning.