Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, pondering today the dilemma of what to do with family heirlooms when your own heirs don’t want them. I’m not talking about the kind of thing you can leave to a museum, but rather the items that had special meaning to someone near and dear to you but aren’t likely to be highly valued by anyone else.
Take my mother’s good china for example. Mom went to considerable expense to have a complete set of china hand painted by a local artist, Charlotte Meredith. Each piece is signed “C. B. Meredith” on the back, except for one that must have been a replacement and was done by my mom’s good friend Agnes Slaver Baker. Anyway, this set of “good china” was in our house all the time I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s . . . and I can never remember my mother using it, not even once.
I suppose she must have taken these out once in awhile, maybe for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but even on those holidays the gatherings were small. I’m an only child, as was my mother. My father had just one brother and he lived in another state. So, at most, there would have been me, my parents, two sets of grandparents, and maybe, after some of the grandparents were gone, a widowed great aunt. Truthfully, I don’t remember, nor do I remember seeing Mom’s good china on the table.
My parents didn’t entertain much. They had parties when they were younger (before I came along) and I have the photos to prove it, but they don’t seem to have been sit-down dinners. After Mom and Dad retired and moved to Florida, they had friends over for dinner now and again, but the story that sticks in my mind, told to me with a smile by my mother, is that when one of those friends complimented her on her good china, she laughed and said, “Oh, this isn’t my good china” and hauled one of the hand-painted plates out of her china cabinet to prove it.
The upshot is that I don’t know if Mom’s good china was ever used, but it obviously meant a great deal to her. When she died, I dutifully packed it up and brought it home with me . . . where it sits in a cupboard in the kitchen gathering dust. I never have people over for dinner, either.
Back when I was engaged to be married, it was still considered necessary for every bride to register china and silverware patterns to aid people in buying wedding gifts. Maybe it still is. Does anyone reading this still give big dinner parties using their best china? My wedding china was also gathering dust until about ten years ago when I started using it for everyday. At least this way I get to enjoy it. As for Mom’s pride and joy? I can’t quite bring myself to toss it out, and no one seems to wants “old stuff” anymore, let alone something like this, possibly because they’ve already inherited more than one set of good china from various family members. That makes me sad.
I have Mom’s good silverware, too. The kind that needs to be polished. There are utensils in the silverware case (wooden, lined with velvet) that I don’t even have names for.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty-five traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.