Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Use Your China

Last Saturday as I was cleaning the house and prepping for an evening with some good friends, I found myself looking at my china cabinet wistfully.

Several years ago, I earned the money to buy this simple yet beautiful Amish-crafted oak piece after an especially stressful contract job. I'd wanted it for a very long time, stopping in to visit it periodically on the furniture show-room floor. See, my mom had told me that once I had a china cabinet, she would give me my Aunt Grace's china. No, I didn't register for china when I was married. I wanted Aunt Grace's set. As a girl, I had stood in front of my mom's china cabinet and admired Aunt Grace's china. The pattern was elegant ... gold with black against a creme background. The salad plates were square. The bowls unique. And the gravy boat and serving platter were the most beautiful serving dishes I'd ever seen. My mom had her own set so we never used Aunt Grace's china. There it sat, collecting dust in Mom's dining room. Unused for decades.

When I finally acquired the China cabinet, Mom brought it up, triple-bubble wrapped, and helped me unpack it.  I displayed it immediately.

But, I haven't used it much. Like it did under my mom's care ... it was lovingly displayed but left sitting quietly in the cabinet, unused and collecting dust.

Not sure why that hit me on Saturday. But as I was waxing floors and cleaning house in anticipation of guests (yes, I like to clean), I found myself standing before my china cabinet just like I did as a young girl, wistfully gazing at something special and fragile. I thought about Aunt Grace. What would she think of her dishes constantly on display like some museum pieces? My discovery at that moment? I think she'd prefer that they were used. 

So ... on impulse, I opened the glass doors and removed what had long been kept sacred for "special occasions."

I draped an elegant Victorian white tablecloth on the oak dinner table. I pulled out the chest holding my grandmother's silver. I selected cloth napkins, both my "Juliet" crystal and new crystal "Scandal" wine glasses (figured there might be white AND red wine) and decorated my table with Aunt Grace's china. I laid out the salad forks and soup spoons, arranging glasses, dessert forks and knives just like I learned in my Eighth Grade Home Ec class. Loved learning that ... (Pretty sure table-setting isn't taught anymore. Heck Home Ec isn't taught anymore!)

When finished, I stood back to admire my creation, wondering why I had waited so long.

I never met Aunt Grace or her husband Uncle Alba. My mom used to visit their farm. She has many treasured memories of those visits -- she now actually owns that farm. A hand-sketched picture of Aunt Grace -- and that china -- is all I know of a woman who seemed to play a pivotal role in my mother's early years. The relationship is kinda sketchy. I believe Uncle Alba was actually my Grandmother's Uncle ... making him my mother's Great Uncle and my Great-Great. So it would be my Great-Great Aunt Grace's china. Not sure it matters except to tell me how old this Noritake set is ... It's probably turn of the century. It is numbered. It is registered. It is special. And I love it.

I like to think Aunt Grace loved it too. And that she would like to know it was treasured AND used.

So on Saturday night, I used it ... I even used the tiny coffee cups and saucers for my friend and I to indulge in an evening cup of caffeine as we enjoyed the delicacy she made from scratch ... Bubble Room Orange Cake. The recipe comes from a restaurant famous for its desserts in Sanibel, Florida. It was amazing .... and I ate a whole piece!

Do you do that? Save things to be used only for "special occasions?" Most people do. They choose to keep things under lock and key for times designated by our calendar as special or extraordinary.

But it's not just "things" kept under lock and key. It's not just things we keep hidden away in the dark. It's thoughts and ideas. Writings. Hidden novels and poems. Plans for trips. Emotions. Why do we not pay that complement? Why do we put off that call? Why do we not make those plans with a friend we haven't seen in a while? Why do we postpone? Why do we wait and save our efforts for "special occasions?"

Didn't Harry Chapin's message reach you when he sang Cat's In The Cradle

What are we waiting for? We don't have any guarantees about tomorrow. Each of us plans and looks ahead as though we're promised a future. But we ignore and dismiss today as we gaze longingly ahead ... as we await the right moment or the special occasion. But what if we don't get that tomorrow? What if that friend moves away or that relationship fades into the background or the unexpected occurs? What if you've left words unspoken and laughter unshared because you were saving them for just the right moment ... for later ... planning it for later ... putting it off til later.

None of us has any guarantees about "tomorrow." Oh, I'm not advocating being reckless or careless. But our founding father Thomas Jefferson knew what he was talking about when he said "Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today." 

But we keep doing it. Saving things or conversations or plans for tomorrow. Refraining from reaching out or making that call or recognizing how much someone means to you until that "special occasion" when the planets all align. 

Consider this from Proverbs 3 27-28: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow" when you now have it with you. 

Bottom line ... none of us knows how much time we have. Carpe Diem ... seize the day ... make as many moments special as you can.  Relationships are as fragile as china. Don't lock them away to pull out on a special day or when the "time is right."  Don't hide your talents under a bushel. Make the call. Start the blog. Search out a publisher. Go on the vacation. Send the text. Reach out. Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today ...

And use your China. 
                                                                                                                         -- Jenni