As a kid, I didn’t hoard so much as as “save for later” — the “later” in question being a nebulous future time that I would know because it would be special enough to finally take the toy out of the box, unwrap the good art supplies, wear the fancy dress. (This childhood habit is now recounted often, with an eyeroll and a laugh.) When I finally did uncap the paints, they were too dry to squeeze out of the tubes. The puffed sleeve dresses and crushed velvet stirrup leggings (and if you’re judging me right now, I’ll tell you that you cannot judge me harder than I judge myself, thank you very much) were too small by the time the moment I deemed appropriately fancy arrived — or, more likely, my mother found them hanging in my closet and demanded to know why the tags were still on.
Still, my “saving for later” could have its advantages, some of which have carried over into adulthood. I feel grateful to it every time I open the tiny cabinets of my small apartment kitchen to find not the ramshackle assortment of IKEA dishes I’d been collecting since college, but my grandparents’ china, the kind that is traditionally kept for fine occasions. Throughout my childhood, they were a hazy background item in my grandparents’ Flushing apartment. My grandmother used the china once, realized it couldn’t be koshered and then put it in a hutch, where it perched for decades alongside obligatory Judaica, family snapshots and tiny bottles of liquor that no one ever drinks but somehow everyone collects.
On the terrible, dusty, emotional day when my mother and I helped my grandparents pack up their apartment, we blasted Broadway from my grandfather’s old speakers and I tried to put aside that old urge to save everything. But it was my grandmother, always the person closest to my heart, who asked whether I would want to keep her dishes. They are a gilt-edged, floral, overly-ornate service for 16, complete with a gravy boat that is inexplicably stuck to its own bowl, not one but two enormous serving platters, and tiny teacups and saucers that I love but have no reason to use. They are enormously impractical, they can’t go in the microwave and I never would have chosen them for my own. I took them.
My tendency to save what is precious for a later date came roaring back when I brought the boxes of china home. For a few weeks, the only thing I did was carefully unpack one tiny teacup and display it on a shelf, out of reach of danger — and of anything practical or tangible. Sure, I thought of my grandparents when I saw it. But I also thought of the rest of the dishes, closed up in a box while I waited and gazed at a single teacup. On a morning that was so not special, so not fancy that I can’t even remember what day of the week it was, I finally opened the box.
It wasn’t until I unwrapped the New York Times and old dishrags from the whole set and let every day be china day that I really felt my grandparents’ presence: l’dor v’dor, generation to generation, from their kitchen to mine.
I’ve still never eaten anything fancier than avocado toast on them, and in this pandemic, it looks likely I’ll never have cause to bring out any more than one plate at a time. But each time I carefully hand wash pasta sauce from the porcelain, I smile at the instant connection to my grandparents. My grandma died in April of 2020, but not before seeing photos of my frozen vegan pizza on her fancy dishes. She was thrilled that I was using them, loving, as I do now, the connection between us. I think she even would have loved the tattoo I got of one of her tiny teacups. It’s nice to know it’s there, always, every day. Not waiting for some future “later,” but instead making now the right time.