My Facebook feed yesterday was full of food. It’s been full of food a lot over the past weeks, as people rediscover their kitchens, baking bread, trying new dishes, sharing meals with family. If anything, this was augmented by yesterday’s Easter holiday, and heralded a few days before by celebrations of Passover, both traditionally occasions for family gatherings with special foods and special plates.
I, on the other hand, ordered a turkey dinner for two from Moxie’s–a dinner that was easily able to stretch into two full meals. I am not a cook. With the exception of a couple of comfort food casseroles–none of which I have made in years as I have focused on portion control while lacking freezer space to store the extras that inevitably come from making a huge casserole for two people)–and a handful of sweets I usually make around Christmas–I rarely cook anything. What I do with the oven is usually to heat things, or to cook packaged foods like fish fillets. I’ll make grilled cheese or eggs on the stovetop, or cook pierogies. We eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, though. What this means is that I have never hosted a family dinner or even a dinner for friends.
My mother had a set of china–Franciscan Ware Red Apple design–that she collected over many years, acquiring not just the plates and bowls, but additional components such as a gravy boat, a salad bowl, a butter plate, and a huge pitcher. These came out for special occasion dinners for extended family. Christmas was the only consistent one, as my aunt Shirley usually hosted Thanksgiving. We usually did not do a big Easter dinner at home–usually, after church, we’d go out to a special buffet (I particularly loved the ones that gave the ladies orchid corsages) and return home for dessert. I once baked a cake shaped like a bunny’s head for this. So most of the year, the china sat in a cabinet at the end of the dining room, unused.
After my parents died, I inherited the china. I was initially enthusiastic about it–the Red Apple pattern is gorgeous, and I knew how much my mom had enjoyed collecting it. But as it sat in my cabinet, I realized that I would be using it even less than my mom had. I would have adopted it for daily use, but it really was not sturdy enough for that. So it gathered dust while I looked at it wistfully. Cooking for me has always been a utilitarian activity–neither a joy nor a drudge. There was no close family to host for; we hadn’t even ever hosted my husband’s parents. I considered selling it, but that made me sad–not only was there no longer much of a market for “good china”, I felt bad even contemplating it.
Then, I had an idea. Perhaps a friend–one who derives more joy from the act of cooking for family and friends–might enjoy it more, and might actually use it. I thought of my friend Eve, who in my mind personified the kind of hospitality that demands the “good dishes.” On multiple occasions, she had hosted us for special meals on holidays or for parties or even “just because,” always putting ample love into the food she made. So I asked her if she might like the china, explaining that I thought they deserved the kind of love I could not give them, and that would honour my mother’s memory. She agreed to take them.
Now I get the privilege of seeing the china used once again for family gatherings, laden with special food, and sometimes I even get to eat from the same dishes I associate with Christmas and other special occasions. This is a privilege and a gift, and every time I see the photographs of the china in use, I feel I am once again sitting around the table with my parents and aunts and uncles long gone from all but memory.
The bonds between me and those I love are unbroken, both in memory and in the present physical isolation. May they ever be so.