It broke into hundreds of pieces on the hard tile floor. Sparkling shards, ready to prick my fingers and vengefully draw blood. Carefully, I swept the floor. Under the cabinets, the table, and chairs removing the dog dishes to the sink. Then the vacuum, to erase every guilty twinkling prism of monogrammed ancestral crystal. Interspersed with the humming drone came clunking gasps as the vacuum sucked up pieces I had missed with the broom. One hundred and ten years and no one had broken one of those 24 matching plates. Now I had fractured the set.

I looked at the stack in the cabinet. The most we had ever used at the same time were 17 for my mother-in-law, Connie’s 90th birthday brunch. We had admitted to her a few months earlier that we were using them regularly as salad and dessert plates. She cringed when I’d placed them in the dishwasher. She softened a bit when I kept saying they were too lovely to keep locked up in the hutch with no one to admire them. I think that was when she decided to take one home with her to serve cookies to friends. She kept it in her sweater drawer — a nice soft protected place. I don’t believe she ever invited anyone in for cookies.

The plates had been her mother’s. A wedding gift in 1906, a set of 24 monogrammed cut glass plates with a large serving plate to match. Connie claimed her mother kept them on display in the china cabinet, so she did, too. Who did I think I was to use them? It did lead to stories about her mother — a complicated relationship, as Connie was the second of two adopted daughters after three “natural” born sons. She’d always felt like the family after-thought. “Purchased” as a playmate for her favored sister.

At 96 she could still speak with a palpable sadness of feeling abandoned by her birth mother and unloved by her adoptive mother. The competitive edge she’d carried with her sister was rekindled into an argument with her niece at the 90th birthday. Someone could have thrown a plate that day.

We had Valentine’s Day dessert tonight: a homemade cranberry crumble. I served it on two of those plates. The dishwasher is running now cleaning berry-red remains and old scars. The trash will leave tomorrow and the shards will disappear, burying old grudges in a landfill far away.

Kathryn Weidener has been telling tales all her life. Writing them down is a new challenge. A degree in speech communication led to careers in social work, accounting, motherhood, and participatory storytelling. She has performed at the Moth in LA and NYC. In Princeton she has enjoyed writing classes with Arts Council and benefits from all the writing, reading and learning opportunities offered through the library and Labyrinth Books. She is the current president of New Jersey Storytelling Network and chairperson of the Annual NJ Storytelling Festival Committee.

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