Friday, June 25, 2010

Just Dishes

I picked them up in the car and drove them home.

I carried them up the stairs all by myself and set them in the kitchen where I opened the boxes and begin to gingerly unpack each bundle.  One plate, two, three.  Three nested serving bowls. One cereal bowl and another, and another. A dinner plate, and two more.  Another small plate. Another bundle of bowls.

Until I had them all stacked on my counter, layered one on the other, presenting themselves to me almost with a smile, ready for a new home:
"Here we are! What do you think?" 
When I was engaged and setting up my wedding registry, I knew I didn't want to spend hours finding "just the right pattern" of china for Taylor and me.  [That's also the reason I didn't buy a new wedding dress--I wore Momma's. It was better that way for me.]  So, I decided to register for the same pattern Momma used for her everyday china--Blue Danube.  I've always been one for "matchy" things, and this set is the creme de la creme of coordinating pieces!  If you can imagine it, Blue Danube probably has one in their pattern :)

So I've been eating off of "Momma's" china for years.   I have done dinner parties, dessert parties, brunches, pizza nights, formal dinners, buffets--all on the same pattern Momma always used at her events: our birthday dinners, tea parties, holiday meals, Saturday morning breakfasts.

She and I even used to talk about our various pieces, "Oh, I used the square salad bowl for the potatoes and the fish platter for the chicken.  Do you ever use your chop plate for a salad? It looks really pretty."  And, truth be told, I think she was always a little jealous of my pentagon platter ;)

And I never really noticed anything unusual about having the same china.  Even after Momma died, using my Blue Danube was the same as it had been before.

And so I was a bit surprised when, after I had put my lovely new pottery away in my own cupboard, arranging it "just so" so that the odd-sized, handmade pieces had enough room without scraping against each other, it hit me--these were Momma's dishes.  Her own. That she used daily.  She loved these dishes.  She handled them and served her food on them and welcomed us all into her kitchen with them.

She spent several years building up her set, requesting pieces from Lois in batches and occasionally asking for custom serving dishes.  She would go to the shop with my sister and ask her advice on which piece she should get.  Not only was she supporting a local artisan, but I think these dishes were her way of paying tribute to the desert she found herself in 20-some years ago.  She loved the desert too.

And now I have both in my cupboard.  The dishes she loved, inspired by the desert she grew to love.

When Taylor and I sat down to dinner on Monday--the first day we had the pottery--we served up hearty helpings of the fig and olive roast chicken, the rice, and the broiled kale, arranging it all on our pretty plates.  We said our prayers, and then I said to the dishes (but not in a crazy-talk way):
"What do you think of my food? Is it as tasty as Momma's?"  
Of course, I was being silly :) I don't really think the dishes heard me.. But it got me thinking.  In a way, these dishes do have a "personality" of their own.  Not only are they used (and well-loved) but I have been a part of their use in another household.  I have known how well they were loved, and by whom.  I know where they come from.

I have inherited many things of my mother's since she died: jewelry, tea cups, teapots, other dishes, small nick-knacks.  But the pottery is the first thing that I've received that I also used, regularly, with Momma.

And using it now, in my own house, makes me want to cry just a little bit.  Not in a bad way, really, but in the same way that those gentle but firm reminders do, as they pop up here and there, telling me things aren't the same, that she's gone.
"But they're just dishes, Annie," a little voice inside tries to tell me.  
And they are. But not just. They have carried so much more than food over the years--memories, smiles, laughter, and even tears. I am very thankful to have these dishes, to welcome my family and friends to my table with them, in memory of Momma, and with her very much by my side.

And here's to that!

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