Every now and then, something that looks lovely on the outside can be a major pain in the ass to hold on to.
My grandmother, an elegant lady with a mind as sharp as her tongue, had an appreciation for beautiful things. One of those things happened to be a sterling silver tea set. Like her name, Elizabeth, the set is fit for a queen.
How it ended up in my possession is anyone’s guess. That an item fitting a lady of the manor came to be with an urban misfit in a rental continues to baffle my mind. (Maybe my Anglophilia was drawn to it.) Don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate nice things, but if I have to pay for it, it stays in the store!
When my father bestowed it on me, he did so because everything else was about to be lost, and of all the grandchildren, our personalities were the most similar. Like her, I’m headstrong, quick-witted and tempered, and oddly drawn to men with good intentions but very bad habits.
I’m also like her in a sense that she too never took to cleaning the damn thing. My silver polishing experience started out impressively but ended in an epic fail. My plantation days would have been numbered. It was apparently a chore best reserved for my Uncle John, her younger brother who bore a striking resemblance to Ron Isley.
In any case, here I sit with the only family heirloom in existence, and I couldn’t be more ambivalent about it. The memories that are conjured by it aren’t as warm and sentimental as they are cold and distant. Where most grandmothers teach their granddaughters essential domestic skills and share stories about family history, mine forced me to watch soap operas and had my hair relaxed one summer because she refused to deal with combing it. Up until I attempted cleaning it, I’d never in my 30-plus years touched the set, or even seen it uncovered by plastic.
To me, the set is a symbol of all the things that hurt me about my upbringing. It signifies a childhood filled with isolation and experiences that ended it too quickly. It reminds me of a time when the people I looked to for love and stability let me down in such a monumental way that the scars haven’t truly healed decades later. I could say it made me stronger and more self-reliant, but that’s just BS speak for someone groomed for a very lonely existence.
For some, antiques are fascinating and exquisite pieces of history that give a home flair. Most people proudly display them somewhere in anticipation of passing along a tale of family triumphs and tragedies.
Then there are folks like me, who see them as something best kept in museums or homes that have no connection to its true history… The better to create their own stories and memories. I personally would prefer reminiscing about a time I went to a market in a faraway land and picked up a vintage mirror than recall the day some drunken relative nearly walked into it. But that’s just me.
Not since Alice’s trip to Wonderland has a tea set been immersed in such dramatic mental dialogue. That a thing of beauty, preserved for decades, could be both a strange symbol of endurance and a spacial and emotional burden — is perplexing.
Suddenly, the thought of having a cup of tea just stressed me the hell out.