For Thanksgiving this year, the young woman pulled her box of china from under the stairs. She had often heard other women say that china should be used regularly throughout the year but this china was special and she had children with slippery hands. It was a lovely little set. Off-white in color with a delicate wheat pattern and each plate, cup, and saucer was rimmed in gold.
She removed the three plates, bowls, and cups from the box and washed them gently. Three. One for her and two for her children. This was the first year since her divorce and she noticed a slight ache in her heart--a small nagging of guilt and pain and "what if?" She had always said that she would never get divorced and felt pain for her children although they both seemed remarkably well-adjusted.
The marriage relationship had turned abusive through the years. She had tried everything that she knew to do but a time had come when she had to leave for the health of her children. Plenty of people had told her that she had made a mistake, that she was a sinner, that she was ruining her life (and that of her children) but she knew that she was on the right path. She just knew.
Holding the china dishes in her slender fingers she noticed that her hands looked a lot like her grandmother's hands. Had they looked the same as hers at this age? She remembered her grandmother having long, thin fingers and the most beautiful, natural nails. Her grandmother's nails were always strong and long. Not like her own. Hers were thin, fragile, and chipped easily so that she had to have them manicured regularly.
This set of china was a gift from her grandmother. She remembered her grandmother pulling the box out from the cabinet along with several other boxes, all containing sets of the finest china. Her sister had been there as well and their grandmother let them choose which set of china they would take. The delicate wheat set suited her. It was simple and elegant but sturdier than the others.
Her grandmother waved the boxes away with her hand.
"Oh, take whatever you want," she said, "these never mattered much to me anyway."
"Where did they come from, Grandma?" her sister asked.
"Well," she said with hesitation,"from your Grandpa. He always loved to buy me gifts."
The sisters took their chosen china home where it would most likely be put into storage for special occasions--such as Thanksgiving this year. As she washed the china, she decided to call her mother to wish her Happy Thanksgiving and ask her if she remembered eating Thanksgiving dinner off of this same set of china.
Her mother was glad to hear from her. It had been a while since their last conversation as their relationship had been strained lately--for one reason or another--it seemed they rarely knew anymore.
"Mom," she started, "do you remember any of grandma's old china?"
She described the set to her mother who remembered it right away.
"Of course," her mother stated. "That was the set my father gave to grandma when I was in high school. I remember the set although I don't remember us ever using it. Your grandma kept the china in the cupboard. As I recall, she had several sets in there."
"But why?" the daughter inquired, "It's such a beautiful set!"
Her mother went on to say that each set of china was a "forgiveness set." Grandpa was an alcoholic in his younger years and had treated her grandmother cruelly.
"It's not right to speak of the deceased," her mother said somberly, "but you should know the history. Your grandfather was sometimes abusive to your grandmother and his children. Each set of china was his way of apology. It wasn't right but it was how he knew to handle it. Grandma never cared for the china. Or the diamond earrings or the mink furs. To her, it was all remnants of pain and sadness."
The young woman talked a while more with her mother and hung up the phone. Her hands were wrinkled from the dish water and now looked like her grandmother's aged and fragile hands. She stood in stillness for a long time looking at the china dishes now drying in the rack.
She left them to dry and turned to the cabinet above her head. Nestled inside were a mismatched set of plastic ware that she had purchased when her children were little. The plates, bowls, and cups had been dropped hundreds of times through the years, as was the purpose of purchasing plastic. They were showing the years of fading, knife marks, and melted edges from being placed too close to the stove. Well loved.
This year, they would be eating their Thanksgiving meal on plastic. Perhaps, every year after. Her children sat giggling on the couch as she finished preparing the final touches of the meal. They would be free, at peace, and away from the pain of generational abuse. They would never have memories of their mother crying after one more painful fight. They would never again know the screaming, yelling, and tears.
And they would never eat off of forgiveness china.