Mom’s Good China

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.

a piece of my wedding china that’s never been used

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.

silverware box–I was going to open it to take a picture but it’s too much hassle to extract from the cupboard

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.

 

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25 Responses to Mom’s Good China

  1. jmh says:

    Recently had the same issue with my grandmother’s china. It is rimmed with real gold, so it can’t be used in the microwave or the dishwasher, making it a bit impractical. I never used it, and can’t remember her using it, either. Finally, I decided to sell to a family via Kijiji who had some of the same set, and one of my cousins found out and flipped. She was so rude, demanding and nasty about it that I decided not to give it to her. If she’d been kinder about it, I totally would have.

    It was difficult to sell, but my grandmother is not things, and I know she’d rather it were used than sitting in a cabinet somewhere.

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    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Sadly, I’m not sure my mother would feel the same. She set great store by owning things, whether other people knew she had them or not.

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  2. Julianne Spreng says:

    I’m so glad that we are getting away from the whole ‘best’ or ‘good’ delusion. When my Dad’s mum died her sideboard was full of beautiful linens and china pieces that had never been used, because she was saving them for a ‘good’ occasion. I decided then and there that I was NOT going to fall into the same hole. Why isn’t the family that you live with everyday good enough to enjoy those special things? Who got to foist the idea of a best living room, parlor, or dining room onto a home owner…those rooms one is allowed to look into but never enter except when company is in attendance?

    From the first day we were married, I have used whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. There are some items that don’t get used as often, but that’s because I don’t need them. When my son was little, visitors would comment, “But what if he breaks it?” My answer is, “Oh,well. It’s only stuff!”
    So, we use the gold flatware and lead crystal dishes for breakfast. Beautiful hand painted china that I’ve found bit by bit and purchased simply because it made me happy is used for a movie night dinner.

    The ancients spent lots of time creating beautiful, meaningful items to be used everyday. We are idiots not to do the same thing. If I lived nearer to you, not in Ohio, I would offer to by your dishes. I almost got a similar hand painted complete service for 12 decades ago from a shop I walked into while nosing around a nearby town. I didn’t need it and couldn’t afford it at the time. I still don’t ‘need’ it, but it would definitely make me smile every time I used it.

    Advertise it. Sell it. Let someone else enjoy it if you are not interested to use it yourself. But, is eating such a low priority that you would really prefer to use that throw-away plastic stocked in your cupboard over either set of dishes. A bit of soap on a cloth or one of those soap-filled sponges would take hardly a moment to clean-up. I’ve never understood our willingness to spend money to buy stuff that we plan to throw away as soon as it’s used. Think about it.

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    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Don’t worry. My wedding china is used for everyday. Those plastic cups in the picture are left over from a cookout that took place over ten years ago.

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  3. Julianne Spreng says:

    Forgot to mention, that good silverware in the box that needs to be polished stays pretty shiny if you use it everyday!

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  4. I bet a nearby family violence project could use it to help set up a survivor in a new, safe location.

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  5. susanvaughan says:

    Kathy, you’ve expressed the same dilemma I have. Yup, I have all my mom’s good china and her silver chest, complete with padding and pieces of silver whose function is unknown. E-Bay?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lea Wait says:

    My mother’s wedding china she designated as for my youngest daughter, as a wedding gift. After being engaged for 18 (EIGHTEEN!) years, said daughter appears to have no interest in getting married, So the china remains … I never had “good china,” so when Bob and I got married 15 years ago — and he wanted to have (shudder) dinner parties, we choose one pattern my grandmother had bought six plates of and left to me — and now we have, if not a complete set, a nice set, which we both love. We bring it out on a regular basis, as I do my Spode Christmas china, which now 3 of my daughters also collect. As for sterling .. now of my daughters wanted it, and I had my mother’s a a very few pieces of “my pattern.” To solve that problem, I hgave each of my granddaughters a silver chest and one teaspoon on their first birthdays, and have since actually bought additional silver — to add to their boxes. The oldest now have servings (not TOTALLY complete, but pretty close) for 12 — and they all love them. So — in my case, anyway, skipping a generation seemed to help ….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Normally I’d say get rid of it, but for this particular set, being hand-painted and really exquisite, my suggestion is “triage” it. I still have many (!!) things that belonged to my mother, and as I go through them, some are easy to pitch and some are “undecided.” So I’m just putting them away for the time being; I still have plenty of her stuff (and my own) to go through and discard with no hesitation. — If you really are pressed for time, how about offering them on, e.g., a “Buy Nothing” local Facebook group, Craig’s List, etc.? That way you could meet the recipient and find someone who appreciates their beauty.

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  8. I have a set of inherited Haviland china – when we moved to an apartment I put in the buffet in my bedroom where the blue and white pattern sets off the blue & white bedspread – it makes me happy just to look at it! It’s destined for my daughter, who does appreciate nice things.

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    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Good to know there’s someone to pass it on to. We have a niece, but she already has three sets of china from grandparents and great grandparents.

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  9. I will be watching eagerly for answers. My sister and I did manage to get rid of our mother’s wedding china (neither of us could figure out why she’d ever chosen it), but that still leaves me with my great-grandmother’s Limoges plus my grandmother’s collection of tea and coffee cups (69), matching dessert plates, and 14 teapots (she worked for Lipton Tea and planned PR photos), plus the demitasse cups my grandfather loved. Then there’s my grandmother’s silver set–my sister took our mother’s set. And nobody, in the family or outside, wants any of this. Me, I started buying my own china at Pier One and Ikea.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m another who can relate. When we got married, we didn’t register for anything–small families and all out of state. But my brother-in-law insisted they were going to give us good china. I finally found a pattern I liked in Noritake–back when Noritake was “cheap” china imitating the big name British companies. They ended up giving us an entire set. We did use it for dinner parties, mainly before the children came. One Thanksgiving or Christmas, the kids (then teens) wanted to use the good dishes. They thought it was great–until they learned we had to wash and dry everything by hand. Back then the dishwashers couldn’t handle good china (and mine is edged with silver) or stem ware, and I wasn’t going to put my husband’s grandmother’s 100 year old silver in it. So we never used it again. I used to bring out a cup and saucer for a cup of tea now and again, but once I got the quilted covers for the set I never bothered.
    As for your mother’s hand painted set, Kathy, are you sure a local museum wouldn’t be interested? Having hand painted china by a local artist, and all signed, seems like something that would be of interest.

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    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Unfortunately, “local” is a small town in New York State and the only museum is similarly small and already overflowing with items they don’t have room to store. When I gave them my grandfather’s diaries some years ago, a board member had to keep them at her house and they eventually ended up at the county historical society (also in a small building) instead.

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  11. Marian McMahon Stanley says:

    Oh, so true. A common complaint of our generation. Our china – white Rosenthal – was used frequently when the children were home – for Sunday family dinners, holidays etc, but those days are gone. Things are more casual in our house now and I like my everyday colorful Fiesta dishes. I feel sure that our children will not want our china – not to mention all our mothers’ teacups! I understand that consignment shops are over full with sets of china as tastes have changed. Things move in cycles – I feel sure that there will be a comeback.

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    • kaitlynkathy says:

      I think a part of it too is that most people don’t have formal dining rooms anymore—no space to serve dinners on the fine china!

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  12. Dawn Kramer says:

    I never had any China, though it was still common for brides to register for it. I didn’t have big family gatherings either. My mom didn’t have any China either but we do have some old relish dishes and other other odds that was my grandmother and great grandmother’s that I still have. Being that they were somethings that was special to your mom and keeping is ok.

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    • kaitlynkathy says:

      I also have salt and pepper shakers and a celery dish from my great grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary. I gather they had all those place settings for the occasion—dozens of guests.

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  13. Pingback: Previously on Maine Crime Writers . . . | Maine Crime Writers

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