My Mother’s China

“Remember Karen, the flowers need to be the right direction.
..turn those plates
…yes, the cups and saucers too.”


Setting the table for Easter Dinner today, her voice was unmistakable. It was as if she were by my side as I arranged her Noritake china–the set with the pink roses. 

My Dad brought the set with his first couple of paychecks, a gift for his mother, when he came back from Japan where he was stationed in the U.S. Army, during the Korean Conflict. Because he was so concerned with the service for 12 getting chipped or cracked, he hand carried the boxes on his lap during the long flight home. I can only imagine the surprise on his mother’s face when she opened those boxes with the delicate, colorful dishes. 

So used to being the one to give him everything she had–here she was, receiving such a special gift from her only child. I wonder if that was the day, she realized that her boy was a man?


She passed away in 1961, when I was a year old, and the set passed onto my mother, who cherished each piece for its beauty, but more for the story of the love between a son and his mother. Dad’s face would like up like the sun’s rays breaking through a foggy day when he would see that setting on the holiday table. And Mom beamed as if she knew she gave him the gift of his mother’s memory for a few hours.


Usually it was me that was given the task of setting the table for the holidays, but it was never complete until Mom’s inspection. Each plate, cup, saucer, and bowl needed to be placed just so. The pink roses at 3 and 9 o’clock and the leaves pointing up from the bottom. I dreaded those inspections as invariably, she would notice something amiss and I would be called back to correct the setting. 


Later on, my rebellious side would try to trick her. Perhaps I’d set each place perfectly, but turn one plate slightly. Or turn the flowers on the saucers upside down because I rationalized, the cups would hide the flowers. My mom had the eyes of an eagle and caught each one. 

Finally, it became a game for me and I’d purposely set the plates, each in a different angle to get her to laugh. I loved hearing her laugh when she figured out what I did….and she’d call, “Karen Anne” and then I knew, I got her! While I still didn’t see the purpose of her meticulous obsession with the dinner plate, bread plate, dessert bowl, cake dish, and cup and saucer placements, I relented and returned to correct the many faux pas. 


When she died in 2001, the china came to live with me. It took a while before I could use it, but the first Christmas that I had a gathering, I decided it was time. As I pulled all of the pieces from the china cabinet, I began haphazardly placing them on the table with the full realization that I could do whatever I wanted.
It was mine. 
It was my house. 
It was my party and if I wanted the roses at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock that was going to be just fine. 
But it wasn’t. 
My mom, while not here, still lives. Just like Jesus lives, my mom lives and her voice is still unmistakable and talks to me from time to time–especially when I set the table improperly. 


That first party and every party since then, her china has been placed perfectly, just as she wants it. However, because I love hearing her voice, I always leave a couple items for her to correct–just for fun.

Happy Easter Mom

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