The inspiration for this blog all started one day while I was staring absentmindedly into my china cabinet.
Perched at the end of our dining table, like a grand old dame overlooking meals, homework, crafting attempts and endless games of Candyland, this antique china cabinet is both imposing and inviting. Its dark wood stain is oily in its richness, and the tops, corners – even the feet – swirl into curlicues, making it both sturdy and whimsical.
As a child, I used to stand in front of its glass-paned doors to admire my grandmother’s vast and beautiful collection of teacups and rose-patterned wedding china. The cabinet doors have a ‘secret’ locking system that kept her collection safe from any curious and clumsy little fingers, but when I was a teenager, she finally showed me how to open it. I still remember how nervous I was to unlock the doors one by one without breaking anything after being given such a grown-up privilege.
When my grandmother passed away in 2011, my mother gave me the china cabinet, along with some of the prettiest tea cups. Around the same time, my paternal grandmother downsized into an apartment and generously gifted me, her only granddaughter, all her blue-and-white, flower-patterned Wood & Sons wedding china.
I immediately went to work displaying each grandmother’s collection on a shelf of their own. Next came my own vases, small photos and artsy postcards I unearthed from dusty boxes, and beautiful sets of dishes and platters I didn’t actually want anyone to use. Even the urns of our two recently departed cats, along with their photos and a few favourite toys, went into one corner. The cabinet-turned-mausoleum was getting crowded with love and memories.
It didn’t take long for my children to see what was developing. Any art project or toy they didn’t want the others to wreck went up for request for admittance into “Mom’s china cabinet”. Soon, a popsicle-stick zebra and a pile of seashells were sitting in my tea cups. A wooden car, too fragile to play with anymore, was stored on a serving dish, and a tiny doll made carefully of glue, toothpicks and empty toilet paper rolls went into my stack of sushi bowls. My children have recently added their own miniature tea set into the cabinet, a special gift from grandma. It is VERY crowded in there – and not exactly stylishly organized for display.
When my oldest child turned 7, she asked me to show her how to Open. The. China. Cabinet. I hesitated for just a moment, before letting her into this place of privilege, of having one spot in the whole house where precious things were protected from the little ones. She added more things of her own.
A couple years later, on my son’s 6th birthday, he asked me “if now that he was a really big kid, would I show him how to open the china cabinet so he could take his car out now and again to look at?” Realizing I had unwittingly started some kind of tradition here, I relented – it was a very solemn moment for him, and I tried my best not to laugh, or worse, kiss him on the head in a wave of motherly affection.
Now all of my kids can open the cabinet, and though this is still done with the utmost of care and attention, sometimes just for fun we eat off the fancy china and have impromptu tea parties with the delicate little cups.
And so my china cabinet stands as a reminder of the epiphany that I am now a nostalgic, middle-aged collector of a growing stash of objects and the memories they carry. And with that alarming insight, I’m taking a different look around my life at all the little collections I have been curating in every nook and cranny. All the memories I have preserved, and all the things I could write about.
The stories, the objects, my affection.