| LifeTakes |

The Gift of Ivory and Gold

My grandmother was firm. “They’re for you. We always wanted you to have them”

Several months after our wedding, my grandparents gifted us with a set of vintage china. We didn’t have room in our small apartment for a spare set of dishes, so Grandpa said he’d store them a little while longer, until we bought a house.

A few years later, we moved and finally had more space, but because I’m a minimalist — or like to think of myself as one — I politely tried to defer again.

My grandmother was firm. “They’re for you. We always wanted you to have them.”

That settled it. We loaded the quilted cases of dishes into our van and took them across the George Washington Bridge with us.

On a visit, Grandpa told us the story of the dishes as he drank black coffee. He recounted how as a newly married man, he worked as a salesman for a company called Easy Glitter. The company ran a contest: The employee who sold the most car wax would receive a set of bone-china dishes. Grandpa won, and the dishes were packed away, cherished for 60 years, because they were too special to use. My grandparents moved from Brighton Beach to North Woodmere to Hewlett, taking these dishes with them.

I wondered at the dishes’ significance and by what merit they were held on to for so long. I tried to ask more, but the story, like their lives, was vast, and covered too many years and locations. The explanations were vague.

“They’re very valuable,” my grandmother whispered. “Maybe give the kids paper plates.”

I thought perhaps they wanted to give me something extremely expensive without alerting the other grandchildren. Then I felt silly when I checked, and found multiple sets being sold on eBay with a buying price of $250.

My grandparents raised a family and saw grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They owned a successful business and supported yeshivos and hospitals and helped struggling families. But they clearly took a lot of pride in that first little success.

The dishes had to mean something more than ivory and gold china. Perhaps they signified to them that their little dreams could become a great reality. My grandfather had the ability look at small things and see potential no one else saw. It’s how he built his business, buying closeouts, the stuff other stores didn’t want.

He’d see people too, and understand that right now things were hard for them, but Hashem would help them get out of the situation. He showed people that he believed in them. His first employee started as a teenager stocking the shelves in the store and stayed for 25 years, becoming a senior executive.

When I was working as a home-care nurse in a rough neighborhood in Manhattan, I once told Grandpa about the old, run-down buildings my patients lived in.

“It’s a good investment, Grandpa, no? Someone can turn them into luxury buildings. Wouldn’t it be fun to rehabilitate an old brownstone?”

Grandpa sat feebly at the kitchen table, an aide at his side. But he became animated by this conversation. He had ideas too. Together, we imagined things we wouldn’t actually be able to do. Grandpa was a dreamer, even in old age.

Over the years, much of my original set of dishes broke, and only a few stray plates remained. So Grandma and Grandpa’s dishes became our Shabbos set.

At first, I was strict about handwashing them. It was a pain, to be sure. After Shabbos, each salad, dinner, and dessert plate was washed, carefully dried, and placed into the quilted round china storage cases with a piece of foam between each dish.

My neighbor saw the cases on my counter one Friday night and said, “Cute. So not your type though, you know, to do all this.”

But I was careful with them because the dishes were the physical embodiment of my grandparents’ dreams. Dreams, especially not your own, shouldn’t be broken in a dishwasher.

While admittedly not my taste, the dishes have grown on me. I try to attune my heart to their message.

And I put them in the dishwasher now, because I knew I wouldn’t use them enough if I didn’t. And like other little dreams that move around in my heart, they haven’t broken.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 746)

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