Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Teapots hanging in the family tree

My mother recently moved and, as aging mothers do, pared down her belongings. My father, before he died, lived in constant preparation for this event. Closets were always being cleaned (and then refilled), piles always being made. Every visit home would end with, "Do you want to take that ____?" or "Come on out in the garage, there's some stuff you should go through before it gets hauled off." He'd be impressed by Mom's relatively Buddhist trimming down of material possessions.

Part of that process, you may have experienced, involves making sure the stuff with family history — and stories attached — is passed out among the children. I'm eager to share my wares: She handed off two beautiful tea sets from her side of the clan. There's this set, from which I'm drinking keemun right now as I write ...

I know nothing about china, patterns or the intricate histories thereof. Nor does my mother, who remembers very little about the set, which belonged to my great-grandmother. "I don't even remember anyone using it," she says. Always a sucker for early 20th-century design, I love the modern lines and adult baby-blue of this china. I have been able to confirm that it's made by the Noritake company in Japan, manufactured between 1914 and 1921. The cup (there's just the one) is so light and thin I feared it would crumble in my hand as I cleaned it. Great to drink from, though. Here's to you, great-granmamma, wherever you are.

The other treasure is this silver service ...

This was grandmother's. By contrast, this was "used all the time." Mom says: "Mother always was having her little lady friends over. She entertained a lot, and poured tea with this." It's a splendid silver pot — I'm beginning to understand why wealthy Brits insist silver is the best vessel for tea — with a sugar bowl and creamer. Very well-to-do, ahem.

Another random bit of family history came to me this week from my dad's sister: "You may not know this bit of family trivia, but your great grandmother, when she came to America as John's wife, was unable to bring much with her. She did however bring a tea pot and teaspoons and some linen napkins. I'm sure she was horrified when she saw the Nebraska home where she was supposed to live and raise a family. Probably having things from England helped her to adjust."

Hey, I'm just glad to know I'm descended from people who, when evaluating which material goods really matter, include the teapot.

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