As a small child growing up, I spent many hours admiring the beautiful assortment of delicate, and delightfully shiny, collectibles that my maternal grandmother, Nanna M, had housed in a multitude of crystal cabinets and buffets in her house. Exceptionally fragile crystal glassware, silver platters, tea cups, ornaments. She adored them all, none moreso than her blue and white bone china dinnerset (complete with teapot, sugarbowl and creamer, if you please), which sat high above all the other items, in a solid kitchen hutch, overlooking the kitchen table. She had collected this dinnerset, piece by piece, as birthday gifts, or Christmas presents, or by putting side a few dollars here and there, and she was ever so proud of it.
Every few months, she would employ the assistance of her daughters, or grandkids, or whoever had trustworthy enough hands, and one by one, piece by piece, all of her precious keepsakes were taken out of their treasure troves, then meticulously cleaned, before being returned to the safety of the cabinets.
I recall asking her one day why she never used any of those things, other than to display them behind glass doors.
“Oh, they’re too precious, love. They’re only for special occasions”.
And even in my seven year old brain, I was confused. It made little sense to have these fantastic bowls and cups all over the place, that never saw the light of day, unless it was Christmas (in which case, it was lined up on a beautiful Christmas table, with the unspoken warning BE CAREFUL!!!) or maybe a VERY SPECIAL BIRTHDAY, but because I was in my Nanna’s house, and I had good manners, I never questioned it again.
I think I was ten years old before I was allowed to eat off one of the plates, after being upgraded from my Tupperware plate and plastic cup, and it was quite the rite of passage, fraught with more than a hint of terror, as I carried that damn plate over to the sink, silently praying that I wouldn’t drop it, chip it, or shatter it into a gazillion pieces under the watchful eye of it’s owner.
I was nineteen years old when Nanna M died, and many of those beautiful collectibles were passed on, with love, to my mum, including the dinnerset. Once again, they found themselves tucked away safely behind cupboard doors, saved for best company, as they always had been.
A few years ago, my mum, noticing my growing collection of teacups (what can I say? It’s clearly in the genes!), asked me if I’d like to have the tea-set for my shelf. And even more recently, the rest of the dinnerset has made it’s way into my home. I love it, and it really is beautiful.
But for me, as a person who sees beauty in functionality, as well as form, these precious pieces simply couldn’t be locked away, collecting dust. The seven year old me is still bouncing around in my head, excited by the touch, and texture, and USEFULNESS of every piece.
I often drink tea, that is brewed in the teapot, from my collection of tea cups. I pick the pattern of the cup based on my mood, and I relish the feeling of that beautiful china in my hands, and I feel the tea warm my soul, and I can’t help but feel thankful for the experience of it. I serve my family dinner on the plates, and serve dessert in the bowls, and I teach my kids to handle them with care as we wash and dry them by hand, because these plates really are for special occasions, and special people.
But actually, what I’m hoping to teach them is something far greater than how to wash china.
I want them to learn that they ARE the special people. That sitting down to our meal together IS the special occasion. That the most precious and valuable times we will ever share, are actually found every day, in the every day. Christmas and birthdays are lovely occasions, and celebrating with guests is wonderful, but I want my children to know that in our house, the guests of honour, who get the benefit of the good china, will always be THEM. I don’t mean that in an obnoxious “my children rule the house like miniature overlords of impossible greatness” kind of way, but rather just that it’s understood that the best is not just reserved for others. The best gets shared between all of us, because every single day is a special occasion that we can celebrate, for a whole bunch of reasons.
I’d like to think that if Nanna was still alive, she wouldn’t be too horrified to see her beloved crockery so freely served upon. I do think of her, each time I see that china pattern, and feel as though in some way, we are sharing a meal with HER too, and I hope she wouldn’t mind too much (especially if she saw how gently we wash those plates!). After all, a plate is a plate, albeit a beautiful one, but the associated memories passed on from her to me, and now from me to my children, well, those things are priceless.
Here’s to many more special occasions with the good china,