Season of Giving and a reluctance to receive.

December 6, 2019

Season of giving and reluctance to receive.


 I know we are entering the season of giving. This tale, however, is about reluctant recipients, but it all turns out well.


 I had a step grandmother we called Nana. She married my widowed grandfather when my mother was 16. I only mention the step part because I am fascinated with 23 and Me and DNA showing itself in our family and I desperately wanted Nana to be related to me by blood. Who wouldn’t when they found out she was related to the Wild Bill Hickok? In my childhood, I was a serious fan of cowboys and cowboy TV shows from Wagon Train to Gunsmoke. Later in life when Nana died her hope chest ended up in my possession. In a tattered white embossed box at the bottom of that chest was a collection of very old clothing carefully folded between sheets of white tissue paper.  In it was a man’s white vest, a black parasol, white satin shoes, tiny white leather gloves with mother of pearl buttons and a few other items. The most intriguing part of the collection, however, were the hand written notes tucked inside each item. In the tiny pocket of the vest was the date, late 1800’s, and the words “Grandpa Hickock’s wedding vest”. The tiny white high heels had the message “Grandma Hickock’s wedding shoes”.


 After attending a fashion exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum many years ago, I contacted the  costume  curator who I thought might find this specific bit of history worth a look, but she had no interest at all. I put everything back in the bottom of the chest and forgot about it for years.


 Recently, I have been on the receiving end of families whose children or grandchildren had the same reaction as the museum curator to their family’s heirloom china. The younger members of these families have a very different aesthetic than what the French, English or German place settings would bring to their modern tables. Besides, hand painted flowers with a flourish of gold are usually not dishwasher safe and teacups that hold a mere 4 or 5 ounces of tea or coffee don’t make sense in a world where the small cup of coffee at Starbucks is three times that amount . But lucky for me, when these frustrated mothers and grandmothers have exhausted their efforts to give their offspring their precious sets of china, they sometimes think of the BonBonerie as a place that might appreciate them. Indeed we do.


 These treasures sometimes arrive in large brown boxes. The contents are individually wrapped in sometimes very old newspapers with an occasional unsigned note attached that simply says,”Hope you can find a good use for these”.  It actually feels like Christmas to me, as I tear the paper off the tenderly wrapped teacup or plate. How can anything as light and delicate as these cups have made it through a hundred years of use?  I wonder about what events were celebrated on their beautiful hand painted surfaces? How many Christmas dinner tables set with these dishes signaled to the entire family that something out of the ordinary was about to be celebrated. Pay attention. Behave better. Expect quests.


 I remember breaking a teacup of my Mother’s Dresden china as a young girl. Sadly, I asked her    where she would get another one to replace it. “Sorry,” she explained, “the factory that made these was bombed in World War Two.“  Another unexpected bit of wisdom that age offers is that there are extraordinary things in life that will never be made again. Because of that, I actually feel responsible for preserving as many beautiful dishes that are bequeathed to me as I can.  


I recently thought about all the lovely dishes I have either purchased or have been given to me since we opened the Bonbonerie’s tearoom. Some dishes have broken over the years, but I think it is worth using them in spite of that, so women my age can still drink from a cup that has a fine familiar feel when it touches our lips and to introduce younger women to the unique experience that may be waiting for them in their mothers and grandmothers treasures.

As far as the clothes in the bottom of Nana’s hope chest, my sister Maureen tracked down Nana’s grandnieces thanks to the internet. When she told them about their distant great great great grandfather and grandmother’s preserved wedding clothing, they were thrilled. We soon sent those artifacts to a welcoming home. They sent us a box of delicious Michigan cherry preserves to thank us.

It could be that that it’s just a question of waiting for the right time for family to appreciate your gift to them , but if you decide you want your dishes to go to an adopted home, I promise to be a worthy substitute for a reluctant recipient.   


Sharon Butler