Before I fell out of love with God and my grandfather, I helped my grandmother cook and serve at formal functions called Leaders’ Dinners. She would labor over meats, sauces, potatoes, vegetable medleys and custards for days, and serve them up, once a month, to 50 men on Monday nights. Grandfather was proud of her delivery, and so was I. Sometimes, she asked me to help serve, reminding me with pursed lips that I was to be seen and not heard, that this meeting was for men of God, and I was to fill glasses and transport plates, moving my body in service to our Lord, my head used only to ascertain what was needed and nod, my mouth opening only to smile.
Grandma served everything on Enoch Wedgwood Turnstall Limited China, an English Harvest pattern featuring fall-hued fruit and foliage. When she died over a decade ago, the Leaders Dinners were things of the past, and no one wanted or cared about the relics. I saw the dishes in the stack to be donated, and I paused for a moment. Then for no known reason, I scooped up the boxes, put them into my back seat of my car, took them home, and carried them down the stairs to be stored in my basement. My house was full of children, and I never served formal dinner parties, to men or anyone else. The boxes collected dust, and I let them.
As my children began growing past their childish things, we began storing their boxes in the basement. As the spaces filled up, I saw no use for Grandma’s dishes, and thought it was about time I gave up my semi-sentimental hoarding. But then I opened the first box and I was hit with a palpable thought. I don’t need these dishes, because I eat on plastic. These are the kinds of dishes men are served on.
One by one, I transported the dishes into the dishwasher, and ran load after load, until they were all clean. I stacked them in my hutch, behind glass, where I could see them. I hated what they represented, hated that they triggered anger in me from abuses of power I have struggled to forget; yet there they were, stacks and stacks of white china plates and bowls and saucers and serving trays, rimmed in gold, with delicate fall foliage. They became an art installation I viewed with indecision, contemplating daily why they were there.
And then one day, my friend came over and I spontaneously served her tea from Grandma’s Wedgwood teapot, pouring the hot liquid into a dainty cup like a proper hostess, setting a cookie on the rim of the matching saucer. I clumsily apologized for the formality, and told a story while I poured. She paused and said, “this is really quite beautiful.”
The next week, I served dinner for two on the plates. The next week, for the whole family, adding the accompanying salad plates. The next holiday, I served twenty-two people with her Wedgwood platters and saucers and butter containers, scooping sauces and pouring refills of wine into the matching coffee cups, telling stories, clinking toasts, moving through the room laughing at the endless pieces and the endless mess, a woman welcomed around and at the table.
Now I eat on her china daily. And not a single piece of her collection has exploded from the blasphemy.
Grandma spoke with the labor of her hands. I have both her dishes and her work ethic, but I also have a voice. Grandma’s china reminds me to use it.