Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Breakable Tradition

Last week many of you grabbed your flashlights, braved the cobwebs
and eased out the wedding china from its hiding place, box by pristine
box, to adorn your Thanksgiving tables. Some of you probably held your
breath each time someone slurped from a precious coffee cup or clinked
a fork down a little too hard on a salad plate.

You might have
counted the minutes until you could wash and dry the whole mess (by
hand, of course) and then return each setting to its proper box –
cardboard dividers and all. Your guests measured the success of your
holiday meal by the quality of the food. You, secretly, used the number
of chipped dishes as your metric: No matter how delicious your
marshmallow yams were, if that cow-shaped creamer broke, the evening
was ruined. 

When we were getting married, Hubby tried to
dissuade me from registering for fine china. He anticipated that people
would shell out a lot of money for a delicate albatross that would lurk
silently in our house, emerging only on the rarest occasions to drive
me completely batty.

Don't touch that! I'll wash that! Don't stack the soup bowls with the spoons still in them; they'll chip! 

told me we would likely never use fine china. As it happens, we've used
our pretty calla lily-embossed settings very nearly eight times. Or
maybe it was five.

"Why do we need china?" he asked me back then. 

"Because," was my answer.

truth, I had no idea why we needed china, but Mom and the woman at
Macy's told me we did, and I was too young to argue. At the time, they
equated china with the little black dress: You always want to have one
in your closet. But the difference is, I get actual use out of my
little black dress – and it doesn't take up nearly as much room in the

My girlfriends who waited until after puberty to get
married were a little wiser. They now keep food in their pantries
instead of punch bowls and cake plates. I'm slightly envious of people
who managed to get a marriage license without a gravy boat. These are
people who don't own a single silver napkin ring – and have had no
occasion to learn that I have 12.

Each time we've moved, I've
been the one to pack the kitchen – never wanting Hubby to get a good
inventory of the insane amount of underused stuff we keep hidden away.

I know what he'd say after packing his 17th box of fondue sets and caviar spoons: "Why did we register for this again?"

My answer would be the same as it was back then: "Because."

like serving turkey on Thanksgiving, collecting useless table
adornments is a tradition. We load up married couples with plenty to
prepare them for special occasions and precious little to prepare them
for life. Collectively, we perpetuate the myth that expensive stemware
is an heirloom in the making, rather than a thing couples fight about
every time a glass breaks. We all do it. And we will all keep doing it
until civilization comes crashing down in a giant crescendo of broken
pumpkin-shaped soup tureens.

If we didn't keep doing it, if we
gave newlyweds presents they'd actually use – like toilet paper or
groceries or retainer fees for a divorce attorney – then when we went
over to their homes for dinner once every two years, we'd have to pile
food onto everyday plates, covering it with ladled gravy and eating it
with mismatched flatware. Chaos.

And worse, the unencumbered
couple would have gotten off scot-free. Babies don't wear handmade
booties, but that won't stop people from knitting them. We will keep
heaping unwanted treasures onto newlyweds because we had this stuff
foisted onto us.

So for those out there who hosted Thanksgiving
dinner this year and hazarded your finest china in the hands of Auntie
Neanderthal and her ADHD-afflicted brood, I raise my glass to you.
And set it back down. Very, very carefully.

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