Thursday, May 26, 2011


The appearance of the storefront startled me. I expected an old-world, classic appearance; instead, items spilled out the front door looking as though not one more precious memory could find room inside.

For a moment or two I thought I should forget the whole thing and drive home. But I turned off the ignition, stepped out, and headed in to find someone to help carry in the two heavy boxes from the back of my SUV.

I worked my way through narrow aisles, dodging one shopper intent on examining delicate linens, and another departing with a small lamp in hand. When I reached the counter in the center of the store, a woman with a harried look on her face asked if she could help me.

“Yes. I talked with the owner on the phone, and she told me to bring in my set of Noritake china. She said she would accept it on consignment.”

“Fine. Bring it in.”

“I have three large boxes. They’re heavy and I need some help. And where should I put them?” I asked, glancing around at the chaos. More than a dozen people crowded the narrow aisles of the stores’ three alcoves, inspecting items that interested them.

“Give me a minute and I’ll clear a spot and then help you carry them in.”

We unpacked the larger box in the back of my vehicle to make the loads manageable. She had cleared a 2x3 feet space amidst glassware, toasters, and more household items than my eyes could absorb. “I hope I can get the whole set on here,” I said. “This is a service for twelve with a lot of serving pieces.”

“Let me know if you need any more help,” the woman said, as she hurried off to wait on a customer.

When we had moved from our house to an apartment six years ago, the movers packed what had been my mother’s china for shipping. I didn’t know what I would be doing with it—neither my daughter nor daughter-in-law wanted it. Both of them preferred Crate and Barrel-type furnishings. The elegant bone china rimmed with a gold floral pattern didn’t appeal to them; especially since it required hand washing.

Now, packing paper mounded on the floor space around me, as I unwrapped each piece.  First the three sets of individual salt and peppershakers; next the delicate cups and saucers that had held Mother’s coffee brewed in her Silex coffee pot. Then the dinner plates, salad and bread and butter plates, and the three sizes of platters and vegetable bowls. In my mind’s eye I saw the carefully carved turkey slices, one platter of dark meat, and another for Mother’s favorite — the slices from the breast. How many times had I watched her set her Sunday and holiday tables with this chinaware given as a wedding gift from my father’s parents?

As the pile of wrapping paper grew, my memories multiplied. Other than my grandfather’s pocket watch, the Noritake china was all that remained of any importance after she died twenty-nine years ago. I had carried portions from Florida to Wisconsin on three different flights after visiting my father. When I published my memoir a year ago, I featured the large vegetable bowl filled with cherries prominently on the cover. And now I displayed it in this consignment store, hoping someone would cherish it and the other hundred pieces accompanying it.

A well-groomed shopper interrupted my thoughts. “This is lovely,” she said, picking up the delicate cup. “Young people today just don’t appreciate fine tableware like this.”

“You are right—my kids really wouldn’t use it. I hope someone will treasure it….” I had to stop and wipe my eyes. “My mother loved every piece. I can’t believe I’m actually letting it go.” I wiped again. “Please excuse me. I’m afraid I get a little more emotional with each piece I unwrap.”

“I’m sure it will sell quickly. And if you don’t use it, your mother would be glad to know someone else will." She smiled at me and wandered down another aisle.

I stacked the last plate, gathered up the mounds of paper and stuffed them into the empty boxes, and went to find Barbara, the owner, to find out what I was to do next. I hoped I had my tear ducts under control.

“Hi. I see you are all unpacked.” She rearranged the coffee cups so they nestled in a circle on top of the dinner plates. “This is beautiful; I’m going to try for two-hundred and fifty dollars. With the holidays coming up, I think the set will sell quickly.”

Two-hundred and fifty dollars? I thought. Maybe this is all a mistake. Instead, I said okay, and asked if I was to have a receipt. “Let’s go up to the counter and we’ll complete a consignment contract,” she answered. “You will receive 65% of the sale price, but every thirty days we reduce the price by 15%.”

We traveled to Florida for the winter season and the holidays came and went. “I keep wondering about Mom’s china,” I said to my husband. “I think I’ll call and see if it has sold.”

The voice on the phone was friendly. “We sold your china last week, for a hundred and fifty-four dollars. You should receive a check by the twentieth of next month.

When the envelope from Legacies arrived, I tore it open and withdrew the check for $102. Fortunately all my memories remain and they are priceless.