Do you have a dining cabinet where you keep all your good china? Or perhaps a kitchen cupboard that is designated as a special storage location? I think most of us do, based on a long tradition of keeping one set of dishes and glasses for everyday use by the family, and another for when special visitors arrive.
As a child, I used to peer through my grandmother’s dining cabinet at the lovely pieces inside, wishing I was important enough to be able to eat off those plates and drink out of those glasses. But they only came out on very special and rare occasions such as anniversary or holiday celebrations, or if an invited guest came by. As a child I couldn’t quite put my finger on why this bothered me, but as an adult I’ve come to ask the question – why are not your immediate family, the people you love the most, treated as special guests everyday? Should not your time with your family always be a special occasion meriting the use of your very best china, silverware and crystal glasses?
My mother took a slightly different viewpoint of this tradition. Every once in a while she would pull out the lace tablecloth, and set the table with the good dishes for dinner. The first time she did this I was surprised and asked who was coming over. She replied that she just wanted to have a special dinner for the family and thought we deserved to be treated like special guests once in a while. It was a nice gesture that made us feel very special and important, but it felt a bit like play-acting, since we didn’t do it very often.
My philosophy, therefore, has always been to treat my family as if they were special guests everyday. I take it another step, and don’t differentiate between the good china and my everyday tableware. This is relatively easy, of course, since I don’t own very much good china or silverware! I do, however, love crystal glasses and other elegant types of glassware and serving dishes. A few of my dishes are antiques, inherited from my grandmother’s china cabinet (unfortunately my sister ended up with the cabinet itself), and although I’d love to use them everyday, wear and tear might result in the loss of these precious items. I do use them on special family occasions. But my crystal glasses and serving dishes are something we use and enjoy everyday, and meals in the dining room with the lace tablecloth are commonplace events.
The down side of this, of course, is that constant use results in breakage and wear. I’ve gone through several sets of crystal glasses, and my lace tablecloth is becoming frayed around the edge from repeated washings. It’s interesting to note, however, that most breakage has not occurred at my children’s hands. Even when they were very small they treated these items carefully and respectfully, developing the table manners required of special dinnerware. It has tended to be guests who break glasses or spill drinks all over the lace tablecloth.
Even when things do get damaged, I try to not get too worried about it. I’d rather share with my family the enjoyment of using my special china and glassware whenever we want, rather than reserving them for so-called “special” occasions only. These are only material things, after all, and it is just one small way I can show my family how much I value them and the time we spend together.
Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students Union.