When my brothers and I divided my parents' estate five years ago, my portion of the legacy included the wedding china that had been stored in a mahogony breakfront in their dining room. I did not inherit the breakfront, but I did receive a curio cabinet in which my mother used to display a collection of porcelain and bisque figurines in her living room.
Within that same year -- a sad year of deaths in my Louisiana family -- I received the wedding crystal that had belonged to a favorite aunt, who died a widow and childless sixth months after my mother. Transported to New England, my mother's curio cabinet became the new home to her own china as well as to what had survived of her sister's crystal.
It has been important to me the past two years to have those family pieces in my suite of rooms. Ready to move within a month to an apartment nearby, I took time this weekend to wash and pack the delicate contents of the cabinet.
It took a number of trips to carry everything down a hallway to the shared kitchen where I do dishes. A quieter weekend than usual in the house, I had space to lay things out. As I leaned over the sink and washed each saucer and soup bowl, each cordial and sherry glass, I remembered the small New Orleans homes where my mother and my aunt would have done the same thing.
No recent entertainments would have required this kind of washing on their part -- just the normal year-to-year care for what these two women had wanted on display from their suburban lives.
Most of the stories about losses and disappointments and nagging problems and habitual heartaches that punctuated their daily phone calls to one another have stopped being told by anyone. Silence descends more and more finally on what had been their discreet litany of sorrows.
I recall details but nothing that bears repeating or recording.
Their wedding china, their wedding crystal was what they wanted on display. A little elbow grease -- to use my mother's expression -- was all that was needed to make a life gleam again in someone's eyes.
These family pieces catch again the sun of a March sky this New England weekend. I can look forward to washing them all again in a new home a year from now.