In a moment of quiet sincerity, my mother told me that she wanted me to have her china. I laughed dismissively and told her that I didn't want it. I can still remember the pained look on her face, a look that held no power over me at the time. I was in my early twenties and thought she was foolish to care about such things.
A few years later, she told me that she had boxed up the china and wanted me to take it back to Minneapolis and I told her emphatically that I didn't have room for china. I had no china cabinet, no place to put it and no interest in it at all. She told me that I would be taking the china at some point and I told her that if she gave me the damn china, it would sit in boxes in my basement. She pursed her lips and said nothing more.
Time passed and, during a visit to Minneapolis, she and my step-father brought the boxes to me. I was annoyed and I told her so and she simply shrugged. The next time we went to Kansas City she told me that she wanted to go out and look for china cabinets and I told her that I didn't have the money for a china cabinet. She insisted that we go "just to look" because she didn't want her china sitting in a cold basement and I suggested that, perhaps, she should have thought about that before forcing it on me. Not surprisingly, we bought a china cabinet that day. When the boxes were finally unpacked and the china was carefully placed on the shelves of the cabinet, she was satisfied and we never spoke of it again.
I am a practical person. I am my practical mother's practical daughter and I think of her every time I pass by the china cabinet and see the delicate coffee cups with their silver rims lined up in perfect rows. I remember that day when she first offered it to me, remember my lack of grace and her pained look. Yes, I have regrets but, more than anything, I am thankful. I am so thankful that she made me take it. Did she know then what I could not imagine? That someday she would be gone and that I would want and need to hold things that she had held and cherished. That I would someday realize that this set of fancy dishes would be the only tangible thing left that had belonged to her and my father. I think she did and that is why the china matters so very much.
We are hosting Thanksgiving dinner this week and, in preparation, I went through the china to see what serving platters we had and what we might need. I touched the plates and the sugar bowl and the gravy boat and then I found the creamer. It was broken long ago at some dinner hosted by my parents. My mother had glued it back together because she couldn't afford to replace it. I sat holding the broken creamer, tracing the cracks and the poorly applied glue and I cried. When you've lost someone, you find symbols in the things they left behind and those cracks remind me of my mother's humanity and are the closest I'll come to an old dusty journal that might provide insight. My mother was a practical woman. It's no surprise that she would not have spent the money to replace the creamer. What is most surprising is that I have.
The package arrived a few days ago and I opened it and gently removed the creamer, a perfect match in mint condition. I set it down next to the broken one and knew right then that I would be keeping them both. The new one will help me remember that, sometimes, there is incredible meaning in the impractical things in life. The old will will help me remember that most everything is fragile - life, love and china.