I am a dishaholic, I admit it. I recently read an article in Time that said we Americans are overrun with stuff. Stuff is cheaper than ever before–cheap clothing, thanks to places like Forever 21 and H and M, and nonessential goods that we don’t need but buy anyway are everywhere.
So I am working on purging my room of shame–my attic–of all the fake flowers, Christmas decorations, and kids’ stuff that is probably more sentimental for me than them. But one thing I will never get rid of is my dishes.
When I was younger, I was unenlightened. I asked for everyday dishes for my wedding. What was I thinking!
But my mother-in-law, who is now 85 with dementia, taught me something invaluable about them. For every one of her holiday meals–and this woman could serve 30 without blinking–she would stand by a large stack of dishes, and graciously hand them out as everyone came up to fill their plates. “Go eat,” she’d simply say.
She loved dishes. As we cleaned up, she would say how pretty they were. It made me notice dishes for the first time–their beauty, their artwork. She had a great collection of platters and plates in all different sizes, colors, and patterns and she used every last one of them to feed my husband’s large extended family.
And then she started on me. In one of our first apartments, I had bought a few faux-Willow Ware plates to stick in a hutch we had, just to fill it up. She noticed–oh, man, did she notice–and thus started a years-long quest to gift me each Christmas with every size, shape, and number of Willow Ware accessories that were known to mankind.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had no idea what Willow Ware even was. But I do now! And I love it. I now have enough of this classic pattern to feed half a city–or at least the family at holidays and gatherings.
The thing that I love the most about this 200-plus year pattern is that it tells a love story. Take a look at the first plate above. It’s the story of a wealthy Mandarin’s daughter (a scholar in Imperial China) who fell in love with her father’s accountant, who was not of the same class. He was thrown out by her father and she was imprisoned in a little house by a lake surrounded by a fence to keep her lover out. Her intended, a wealthy duke, comes for her by boat, bearing a box of jewels. But her lover came for her and they fled across a bridge under **a willow tree**, being chased by the duke, who is holding a whip. The lovers escape to a pagoda but are captured. But the gods have mercy on them and transform them into doves who fly into their happily ever after.
Someday, I hope I’m the tranquil granny who stands before enough food for an army, quietly handing everyone a plate and telling them to come eat. And I hope I get to tell the willow legend to grandkids as they eat off those plates. And I hope that my kids will treasure all the meals we’ve had on the Willow Ware and that these memories carry fondly into all their holidays with their own families. Because for me, I remember the kindness of a wise woman who knew that I would need–and one day treasure–those plates! And I will also treasure the memories they will always bring me of her.