Growing up there were certain things in the house that you simply did not touch. My mother’s china cabinet was one of them.
The over sized beauty sat in different places throughout the dining room, each time being moved by my dad with my mother hemming the orders as to which side of the room it should be on. If I ran through the house at just the right speed I would hear the china rattle from inside. I often wondered what sound it would make if I bounced really hard on the hardwood floor but the innate fear of a switch to my legs was just enough of a reminder to me that some things in the house were sacred and the contents of momma’s china cabinet was one of those things.
My grandmother’s china was a different story. Itera Poe Tubbs had her fair share of china, that’s for sure. But the good stuff, the stuff she held most precious to herself were kept in a white closet that I named the “elevator” because every time she went over to it I knew something was going to end up coming home with us.
I was around 10 years old when her beloved original Desert Rose Franciscan China came into my possession. It was one of those days where Granny would pull all the stuff out of the elevator and her and mom would talk about it, clean it and maybe even get rid of some stuff. My grandmother was a stickler for having her china. She started out purchasing most of her Desert Rose collection at Loveman’s and Pizits Department Store in Birmingham. People gifted pieces to her. My great Aunt Bug even helped her piece her collection together. It only came out for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays. My mom grew up watching Grannie talk about those dishes, serving coconut cake and ambrosia on the dessert plates.
“This is Laura’s.” Granny made it clear that the beloved Desert Rose Franciscan China – an entire original set lacking only the cookie jar – was to be mine one day.
My mother loved that set of china and had wanted for years for her own mother to relinquish all rights to it and pass it down to her and then, naturally, it would come to me. But for some reason my grandmother bypassed my mom and gave it all to me.
Knowing at the time just how important mom’s china was to her, I felt a sense of pride swell inside of me. My grandmother was gifting me my very own set of china that I might one day also be able to set up in my own home and maybe, just maybe, pass down to my own daughter one day. It was a heavy thought for a 10 year-old.
The next years of my life would carry on. My grandmother passed in 1999. I remember thinking about that china tucked in the elevator after she passed. I dared not touch it for fear of breaking it. Time carried on. Whatever reason, the boxes of china moved around the house, from the “elevator” to my parent’s house and back to the “elevator.”
A few years ago a massive fire burned my grandmother’s house to the ground leaving nothing but a pile of hot brick and black ash. The morning after I came to accept the fire it wasn’t all of the things I had in storage that I lamented over – like the collection of beanie babies, baby keepsakes and most all of the things I loved from my childhood. No, what I cried over the most was the reality that the china was gone. Heartbroken, mother and I never spoke about that china. I accepted then that material things are just that and when we all leave this Earth we can’t take them with us.
Over the next few years, as luck would have it, I would begin piecing a collection of dessert rose back together.
Still, none of it is the original that belonged to my grandmother. Last week mom sent a text message that told me she was about to make me a happy girl. What followed were photos of pieces Granny’s collection collection laid out on the dining room table.
I cried tears of pure joy.
Isn’t it funny how twenty years after my grandmother’s death and all of the chaos surrounding losing bits and pieces of that china, that pieces of it are finally returning. God has a funny way of bringing lost things back into your life, that is for sure.
The morning my mother texted me to tell me she had found a box in perfect condition, safe and sound at her house, tucked away and all but lost from our minds, I was sitting in my car getting ready to walk into work and a cardinal was perched in the branch of the green Japanese maple tree by my parking spot.
I’ve read that a red cardinal’s visit is a visit from someone in heaven, just stopping by to check in and see how you are doing. Well Granny, I’m doing pretty good and can’t wait to use that dessert rose on special occasions.
Oakman native Laura Pitts is director of the Scottsboro Public Library.