Fifteen years ago, I was the lucky recipient of my grandmother’s china. Not only is it my grandmother’s but also her sister’s. The sets are only slightly different and unless you know, you think it’s one set.
I say lucky because I’m one of 40 grandchildren. My grandparents had 14 kids. My mother (#4) had six and I’m the sixth. Of all the family members, children, and grandchildren alike, somehow, I was chosen as the recipient.
I received it as a wedding gift and at the time, we lived in a 1,200 square foot house.
The china filled a large tote. I was over the moon thrilled to have it. Not only is it equally beautiful and delicate, but the history and familial attachment are deep. Back then, we didn’t entertain much, let alone the type of entertainment worthy of china. I put it on display in a china hutch and enjoyed its visual presence in my home.
As time went on, we became a family of three and then four. Shortly afterward, my grandmother passed away. Here was I, the sole owner of a massive china set, only to display it. Even then, displaying it had become problematic. We were still in our teeny-tiny house but now, with a three-year-old and toddler. Nothing was safe. That china hutch was needed to store more practical things, like toys or linens, not house a pretty exhibit.
For five years, all I did was look at that china. I didn’t use it once. In the waves of grief, I felt guilt.
To explain further, both of my grandmothers and my mother sew quilts; beautiful masterpieces with scrap fabrics and fancy arrangements alike. All three women used to say, “I don’t make these to be looked at. Use them.”
I use – and abuse – my homemade quilts. Why was this china set so different? Because it was breakable? Because it was old? Because it had sentimental value? Every quilt I own fits these categories, and still, I use them. Not only that but I, of all my 30-some cousins, had this piece of my grandmother’s heritage. They didn’t. With a family this large, some didn’t have anything but a quilt.
I decided the china set was in my possession for a reason. Not to look at, but to share. I selected a four-piece place setting, and then added a fifth because something whispered in my head to do so. I took the rest to the next family gathering and told my cousins to select a piece or two. Not because I didn’t want the china, but because I felt it wasn’t mine alone.
I don’t regret it one bit.
I could have kept the entire set and many people reading this will think I should have. I would have boxed it away temporarily until we had more room – and did for a while. But I wouldn’t have experienced the soul-deep joy of allowing my cousins to each have a tangible, sentimental piece to remember my grandma by.
Thirteen months later, we had our third child. I like to think that someone upstairs gave me a nudge to go back for that fifth place setting. Likewise, I believe she’s content with her china spread across the family.
That china still sits behind glass on display. Occasionally, we pull it out and use it. Not only for holidays like Thanksgiving during a pandemic but also for random occasions, like hot cocoa and cookies because it’s fun to stick out your pinkie while sipping from an authentic, vintage teacup. Even for a random dinner night, sometimes I bust them out.
Sure, it’s great to have pretty things, heirloom items, and untouchables.
It’s also nice to use them.
In doing so, I’m still sharing and remembering. This time, with my husband and children.