today i started emptying our cluttered china cabinet, in preparation for filling it up again, only more so. It’s spring, or an illusion, here in Chicagoland. Out with the old, in with the new. Or in this case, in with the other old.
Only child that I am, I inherited a fair amount of fragile things when my father made his final move to Florida. There they all are, the lot of them, piled high on our dining room table: my Aunt Julia’s hand-painted, Czechoslovakian china set, the weighty platter from Finland, the hot chocolate set from Denmark. There are all the teacups from China, the saki cups from Japan, and the pretty teapots. The lesser set of sterling in its wooden box. The vases. All those vases, too many of them chipped because I, in a not-my-parents’-daughter-moment, stuck them in the dishwasher. The figurines and random creamers, at least two of these shaped like cows. And by this, I mean the creamers—the creamers are shaped like cows. The figurines are shaped like me, in my mother’s eyes. When I was little, she collected china girls, reading china books because at the time I collected books, not inordinate amounts of china.
I’d rather be reading now, staring at that leaning tower, and beside it, all the crocheted linens, and, good grief, my mother’s many aprons. She was wearing them, most likely, about the time the house I live in now was built. Once in a while, I will put one of them on, and mimic June Cleaver, though my mother had many more dimensions than that character. Mostly, though, the aprons hide in a tangled ball, shoved back in the dark of the china cabinet.
I am thinking I want someone to sew my mother’s aprons into a quilt.
I am feeling great empathy for Dido, teetering on her burning pile.
I am getting a grip, and focusing on the other humbler things, tucked between all the floral patterned pieces—the clumsy clay projects made by my children over the years. My family now.
My father died last fall, and this past Christmas, my husband and I went to his house in Florida, and while our kids watched TV until their eyes glazed over, we packed up more of my inheritance. These things are still lurking in plastic and cardboard boxes in our basement. Wedgewood. Lladro. The better sterling in its wooden box. And other, more, more, more fragile things, too many to name.
Our basement flooded five times last year, and we are a little concerned that now that it is spring, even if it is just an illusion, our basement may flood again. I am working to put our basement back together, putting things away and off the floor in a methodical way. I am working to bring what’s in the basement to the light of day, if only for a little while.
Thus the china cabinet. The dining room table. The dust motes of my childhood in the late afternoon light.
I am a grownup, I remind myself.
A few weeks ago, a very grownup and dear friend came over to help me jump start this process. She picked up a decoupage plaque of a little blond boy in a blue romper praying. She said, “Donate?” I said, “My mother made that!” My friend said something along the lines of: “Your mother was probably just going through a phase. She probably would have donated it by now.”
I froze in our cold basement. Then I laughed.
So I’m remembering my friend now, staring at the tower of fragile things, thinking of the fragile things down below where the water might rise. Some I will shift onto shelves where the water can’t reach. Some I will keep up here behind the china cabinet’s glass doors. And some I will simply have to donate.
But not my kids clay pieces, marked with their fingerprints. These I’m taking out. I’m lining them up on the mantlepiece. They are a colorful, clumsy crew, creatures and vessels on parade. It looks like some kind of carnival up there, even as the sun goes down, and the dust motes fade, and I think about all I still have to do, if I’ll ever be done.