just ponderin'

… on the rescue tea set

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The Old Tea Set

Years ago, when the kids were little (and quite demanding little suckers), I had an hour between dropping one little monster off, and a meeting that would eventually tumble into picking another one up.

One hour to myself!

I pulled into the driveway of a local antiques shop and wandered inside…

At Christmastime.

This was a beautiful store, spread amongst three buildings, all antiques themselves. The main shop was an old colonial home, complete with fireplaces and old radiators and huge windows looking out on a grand porch filled with gorgeous, ancient wicker chairs and tables all year ’round.

It was a place of treasures. And one of them has been at home, in our home, for many years now.

I happened across it that day I stopped there, a few days before Christmas Eve so many years ago. The main building was decked – halls and all – with greenery and twinkle lights, poinsettias and holly.

The old tea set was sitting on a gorgeous old english dining table. The table itself was stunning, and the tea set not so much.

It was tarnished, nearly black in places. And the pots and urn, sugar bowl and pitcher were sort of hodge-podge-edly arranged on the huge tray.

I walked over to it, picked up the pitcher and looked at it. Almost immediately, a sales woman was at my side – surprising me, and talking quickly. I realized she was apologizing for the state of the set, explaining that it had just come in and they hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

I actually thought it was beautiful as it was, and told her so.

I placed the pitcher back in its place, and touched my fingers lightly onto the tallest piece. The woman said it was a coffee urn, ‘very rare to find it with such a set’.

I traced its lines, down to a small spicket at the bottom. She told me it still worked, ‘didn’t even leak a little, also rare.’

Rare.

Ugh.

In Antiques World, I knew that was code for ‘expensive’. Which was okay, because what did I need with an old tea set? Old tea sets were for grandparents – wealthy ones, right? High society humans who tea or lunch or do whatever it is that people with old tea sets do.

I smiled and wandered past.

And came back.

And walked away.

And came back.

And walked to the other buildings.

And came back.

Dammit.

Finally, I got up the courage to ask.

It doesn’t hurt to just ask…

I approached the saleswoman, who was sitting at a huge oak desk that looked practically  immovable, she was engrossed in a thick book, seemed to be researching something. When I asked about the old tea set, the woman sort of frowned.

Uh oh.

She explained that the set was something of a disappointment, as I surely must have seen. ‘Not much of a set’ as far as antiques go. She told me that the hinged lid of one of the pots had clearly been glued on, and ‘badly’. She got up and walked me over to it and showed me that the same pot had a few dots of hardened glue along the back of it and any attempt to scrape it off or remove it would surely damage the silver plating.

She carefully lifted each vessel off of the huge tray, and then sort of hefted it up (it weighs more than ten pounds) and turned it over.  The tarnish obscured most of the ‘marks’ beneath, but she clearly didn’t think it was up to some sort of standard.

I remember thinking of a judge at a dog show, finding a certain beautiful dog lacking in some way I would never be able to discern.

She put the tray down, and placed each nearly blackened piece upon it, then promptly led me around the corner to a table where a stunning, silver tea set stood – a tea set with a much better pedigree.

It was polished to an inch of a mirror. Silvered perfection. Someone would be proud to display it in their home – the lights sparkled off of it, here and there. It would totally have won Best in Show at any tea set competition.

And I had… zero interest.

I was all about the reject.

Turned out the imperfect treasure was quite affordable, as in ‘You’ll take it out of here? Let us help you’ cheap, and so it came home. And I walked into my house struggling to carry my Rescue Tea Set through the kitchen door, and getting the exact reaction from the Nearly Perfect Husband as I would have gotten if it really were an unexpected dog.

I bought silver polish for the first time ever, and I cleaned and polished and primped and fluffed my Rescue Tea Set for it’s very first Christmas in my home (and probably socialized it a bit too much at first, there were a lot of people in and out of the house that year).

Each year since, I’ve polished it at Christmastime… draped it with reds and golds and twinkle lights and, I’m not sure… I mean, I don’t want to go all anthropomorphic on you, but I think my  beloved Rescue Tea Set is a little prouder at this time of year.

But…

I have to admit, some years I haven’t felt very much like polishing it.

Some years it feels a little too heavy, the task a little too much… an easy one to just take off the too-full holiday season check list.

But… I do.

I’ve polished the tea set during Christmases full of little kid wonder and magic, where the only stresses revolved around getting ‘hold of a popular toy …

I’ve polished it for Christmases where joy was dappled in grief…

And one where it was draped in it.

I’ve rubbed off tarnish and quietly smiled at the resulting reflection of twinkling lights during a year of chronic pain, and the resulting emergency ‘who-knew-it-was-so-bad?’ life-saving spinal surgery that happened a week after Christmas itself…

I even had JoHn heft the thing over to the sink one year when I could not lift a thing, so much pain in my arm and chest, awaiting the results of a biopsy, and trying to ignore the mental image of a doctor’s concerned face.

Another year I polished it in gratitude, weeks after Sam came out of his coma, post-seizure. We were celebrating one kid still being alive… didn’t matter that we were just at the beginning of keeping him alive… he was there, and I’d have given the angels themselves a run for their money if there was a Christmas joy-off.

I always polish it… each year, no matter what.

Because every year, as I walk each piece to the kitchen, beside the big sink, and pull the silver polish from the cabinet below and start, I am reminded… by a rescued silver tea set…

That Christmastime is about so much more than me.

It’s a time to reflect on the love and life I have with special humans, all humans actually. And the sparkle, the wonder, the joy and the magic I can create in my own home touches each person who lives and visits here… but it also ignites my own gratitude and appreciation of so much… so much I’ve had, I’ve experienced – some has surely and painfully carved depth and understanding and humility into my soul… while other life stuff has seen my spirit dancing and twirling in celebratory bliss.

Polishing the Rescue Tea Set adds a little bit to the sparkle, the magic, in my home this time of year, sure…

But this silly rescue from an antiques store years ago reminds me, every year, that the tarnish does come off, and that there is magic beneath the grit… every time.

And, I like to think, In every life.

Kind of a cool thing to remember…

At Christmas.

Thanks for readin’.

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Elena Peters

midlife blogger & pinterest master

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