A few weeks back, on a Friday night, one of my best friends came over. We had a few glasses of wine, gabbed in the living room, and at one point I gestured over to the small dining table by the patio door. The table was covered with a variety of picture frames, some filled with photographs, some empty. I told her how I'd been meaning to assemble a "Picture Wall" but never quite got around to it. Well, this friend of mine, she's a doer. And so we rounded up some nails and a couple of hammers and we got hanging. As we were arranging the frames on the wall, we looked through some boxes of old photographs to find more pics. Old pictures brought up old feelings, and talk turned to divorce and how one deals with the leftovers from a dead marriage.
I told her that when my husband left, he didn't ask for anything. Not a single photograph. Not any artwork the kids had made. He wanted nothing, not a single remnant nor reminder of our 15 years together. And then I said to her, "I still have our wedding china, it's downstairs...all packed up."
My friend looked at me for a second, a nail held firmly between her lips, hammer clutched in her hand. She took the nail from her mouth and said to me, "Let's go unpack it. You're going to start using your china."
I balked at first; told her how expensive it was, and how I was sure the kids would have it chipped and cracked and marked up in no time. How I should save it for special occasions.
She stopped me on the stairs leading down to the storage closet where the china slept, swaddled in packing peanuts and gauzy memories. "Jenny," she said, placing a hand firmly on my shoulder, "Really. What special occasions?" And she was right.
I mean, what had I been saving it for, anyway? For the intimate Christmas meals that I make for the kids every other year? For all of the sweet romantic dates at my place, where I make one of my trademark man-catchin' meals for my nonexistent boyfriend? For the tea parties I have? In a life where special occasions are few and far between, does it make sense to keep a special set of dishes for them?
No. It makes zero sense. And so we unpacked it, piece by piece, and set it on the big table in the kitchen. The tea cups, the saucers, the bread plates, the dinner plates, the soup bowls, the serving bowls. The salt and pepper shakers. The boxes seemed to be bottomless, and with each piece that was unearthed, I felt another little hole in my heart heal. I remembered the wedding, the reception, remembered opening the gifts and writing the endless thank you notes. I remembered going to Marshall Field's with my then-fiance, wandering around and looking at dozens of china patterns before we finally settled on this one. "Claire" by Ralph Lauren for Wedgewood. In 1993, it was the epitome of understated class and elegance. Now, it looks kind of stuffy and pretentious... but its beauty is not lost on me.
I cried a little, as we washed each piece and put it away in the kitchen cabinets. My friend hugged me, told me that this was a good move. The right thing to do.
"This used to be yours and his. Now it's just yours...make new memories with it. Use it, every day."
And so we've been using it. It was difficult, at first, seeing a piece of the hallowed "good stuff" in the sink, smeared with peanut butter and jelly, or the remnants of a sunny-side up egg. But every day, it gets easier. Those old memories are fading, they are being replaced with new ones, better ones.
This essay was originally published on Jennifer's blog, The Happy Hausfrau