When I was twenty-one I went on a trip with my mother to a town called Puente in Spain (she snapped the picture to the right). We visited a small shop where a potter and his wife create hand-crafted dishware. Before we left, she bought me a traditional dining set which included a few extras like tea cups, sugar bowl, cream dispenser and teapot. I love them for their beauty, for the love inherent in her gift and for the memories they hold.
But it wasn't always like that. For years they were packed carefully away for the day when I would set up a home of my own. When that day came, they were put up in a cupboard hidden away from view and used only on "special occasions". Then when it came time to reorganize after the remodel, I told myself that anything that wasn't used on a regular basis had to go. I had all but forgotten the dishes so when it came to making much-needed cupboard space, I was confronted with the dilemma of what to do with them. By now they were somewhat of a burden. Tea cups and sugar bowls seemed so romantic at the time but really had no practical function in my life at the present. Hmmm...
Then one day, the solution came to me: why not use them? I laugh at how sometimes the most obvious answer is the last one that presents itself—or rather, is the last one I consider as a possibility. So I took the set of dishes we were using on a day-to-day basis and gave them away.
This makes me think of a story my mom tells about her Grandma Alice. She (Alice) and her husband worked so hard just to provide the basics for their family that it wasn't until she was a grandma herself that she finally bought a brand new set of furniture for the first time. Her life to that point had been so marked by scarcity that she kept her new furniture covered in plastic at all times, even when company came to call. As odd as this seems to me, I must concede that a plate which never serves up a meal is no different from a couch you can't sit on.
PHOTO: Alice (l) with her daughter-in-law (my grandma) out giving the couches a break
So I ask myself, what good is something that can't be used up and worn out? This is a question which develops more meaning with time. That same query made in my twenties, for example, would have had a different context all together since so much of my life was yet to come. It's different now. Not that I have one foot in the grave or anything, it's just that, well — I no longer feel like time is on my side. One has to ask oneself, "At what point do I actually begin living my life as opposed to anticipating the arrival of that moment?"
This all makes me wonder what ever happened to Alice's furnishings? Did they go to her children after her death? Did they say, "Wow, mint condition but a tad out of style." then kick it all to the curb? Did they simply go straight to the Salvation Army where a mother of small children brought them home to certain destruction? Are they in a furniture museum somewhere? OK, I guess I've made my point.
So back to the dishes. Yes, some of the pieces are kitchen decorations. And yes, I picked up a few dishes and tumblers at a second-hand store that don't have to be hand-washed (they also happen to fit better on our tiny table than the others). But it's also true that it warms my heart to hear Oliver say at the end of the day, "Mom, will you make me some warm tea?" then watch him sip it from a cup and saucer that won't be seeing the inside of that same thrift store anytime soon.