Life can happen in an instant. My mother dying, for example. She had just visited me for my birthday. We shopped and went to the beach. We talked and laughed and ate Mexican food. A very healthy 88-year-old. Six weeks later she died of an infection. Just like that. I learned how fragile life is. That every day is precious.
When she passed away, I inherited an exquisite set of delicate pink and white dishes. Haviland. Gorgeous plates, bowls and serving dishes. Precious. Fragile. The kind of china you would see gleaming on the tables of Downton Abbey. The dishes were very important to me.
The china had belonged to my Great Great Aunt Ida Jarvis Smith. She was born after the Civil War in 1869 and married an up and coming land lawyer, Stuart Robertson Smith in 1901. His business boomed with the discovery of the Spindletop oil fields near Beaumont, Texas, and soon they found themselves in a wonderfully grand house. It was quickly filled with all the lovely things that ladies of that era needed. Beautiful china, silver, crystal, Victorian furniture, clocks, and paintings.
By the time I met Auntie in the 1950’s, she was a feisty old woman, but still living in the big old house. My grandmother would daily take me to see her when I was visiting during summer vacation. I adored Auntie. She was interested in everything and told me stories about her life. She saved a little bird in a coffee can that fell out of a tree and fed it until it was able to fly again. I would play on her big front porch, while she sat in a rocking chair reading the paper with a magnifying glass. She always had a box of “pretties” for me, things she had saved up in anticipation of my visit. Bits of fabric, little rubber balls, pretty buttons, ribbons, interesting pebbles, and seashells.
Life was different in 1957. No video games. No iPhones. Slower. It was a time when you sat and “visited” with people. When Auntie passed away in 1959, I remember being very sad that I would no longer get to see her and hear her marvelous stories. Very few people outside my immediate family impacted me the way she did. I secretly hoped that when I got old, I would be a cool as Auntie was.
After Auntie died, her beautiful Haviland china lived at my grandmother’s house, and then it was given to Mama. Auntie’s dishes had the honor of sitting in a closed cupboard at my mother’s house in Utah for 30 years. I always wanted to use the dishes, but Mama felt they were too delicate. It was the GOOD china. We maybe brought them out two or three times for Christmas dinner while I was growing up. We had other dishes that were less special. So the pretty plates and bowls sat gathering dust. Then Mama moved from Utah to Georgetown, Texas, and the china found a place in a hutch for at least 10 more years, before it was packed away in a dish crate and moved to Arizona. There it sat in a storage facility for at least another 10 or 11 years until it finally arrived at my home. 60 years had passed since I first saw the beautiful dishes in Auntie’s grand old house.
Life is Fragile
Auntie’s china was always being saved for a “special event.” And I am glad we got to use it for those extremely rare occasions. But, while sitting in my house and unwrapping each lovely piece, it seemed a shame to just hide them away again. So I displayed them proudly in my glass hutch. We used them for Thanksgiving and Christmas that year. In fact that Christmas, when my family sat around the table enjoying a delightful ham on the exquisite plates, I felt like the china somehow connected me to my aunt and my grandmother. I knew Mama would be pleased we were finally using it. It was connecting these wonderful women to my two daughters and granddaughter, who were sharing a meal on it.
The beauty of the past was now the beauty of the present.
The precious Haviland dishes had spanned 5 generations. The china was a through line from 1901 to 2016. The beauty of the past was now the beauty of the present. The dishes made that holiday extra special. But Life intervened. Sadly, that lovely Christmas dinner would be the last one I would spend with my oldest daughter, Anna, who died suddenly of cardiac arrest barely four weeks later. Life is fragile.
When someone dies, it’s like your past, present and future get all jumbled up. You have to re-adjust to a life without them. My Aunt, my grandmother, Mama, and now my daughter were part of the past. But they really aren’t in the past, because they are always with me. In my memories and in my thoughts. Several months after Anna died, I decided it was time to use the china more. To ENJOY the china. Admittedly I have started slowly. I eat cereal every day out of one of the bowls. Several other pieces are being used in my bedroom to hold some of my antique jewelry. My husband often asks me what will happen if one of the bowls should break. “Then I will use another one,” I tell him determinedly. I am happy to say, nothing has broken yet.
When is there ever going to be a “good” time to use our beautiful things?
When did we stop enjoying the things we find so special? We now use our good silver daily, and I intend to find more reasons to use Auntie’s larger plates and serving dishes. It seems like I have spent my life holding my breath waiting for the right moment to wear the dress, drink out of the crystal, or use the silver.
If you should be so fortunate to have something precious and fragile that you have inherited: A piece of jewelry, a picture, a set of goblets; if it is something that you love, and treasure, then why aren’t you using it? Because it might break? Because you might lose it? But if it sits in a cupboard or a box for that special time, it’s important to know, that special time may never come. I thought of all the people in Houston who’s homes were destroyed during Hurricane Harvey and the thousands of people in northern California who lost everything to a wildfire. Life happened in an instant. All those beautiful things saved for the special occasion, gone. All the people and families who expected to see each other again incomprehensibly vanished into eternity.
Every Day is Precious
I think today is a special occasion. I’m alive. I’m surrounded by people I love. I have a deep faith in God. Life is good. Perhaps, because I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that people won’t be around forever, including me. Today is special because I won’t ever live this exact day again. I have right now to enjoy the things I’ve worked for. I have this moment to enjoy the legacy left to me by those who impacted my life so deeply. With the twenty or so years that I hopefully have left, I want to remember that every day is precious. I want every day to be special enough to use the good china.