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Good China: A Lesson In Family Values

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Family Values (Mybrotha.COM) -- Growing up in a sub middle-class home in the South during the 1970's didn't give us much to cheer about. I was too young to appreciate the miniscule $.92 gas prices, and inflation kept most taxpayers from savoring the low cost of living. Race relations were extremely weak, and pop culture influenced everything from fashion and music, to movies and food. We were a black family in small-town Georgia with countless financial and emotional challenges. But I was fortunate to have both parents in the home. My parents led unhurried lives and did whatever it took to support their children.

Family lifestyles were simple back then. There was an emphasis on unity, support and ethics. Kids spent countless hours with friends and focused on building lifelong bonds. We didn't have iPhones, email, Facebook, or Nintendo DS. Instead, we played wiffle-ball in the street with neighborhood buddies; captured fireflies in mason jars; and marveled at the flight of a Frisbee. No one knew what ADHD stood for and we all knew each other's home phone numbers.

Even our parent's way of living was less complicated. Families actually sat together at dinner tables without televisions and stereos blaring in the background. Couples socialized in person (not in online chat-rooms) and the number of substance abuse centers was few. We didn't have much, but core values were king, and our parents always looked for ways to positively influence our future.

Like many parents, my mother found creative ways to inspire us. Especially when we cried of boredom and lurked aimlessly around the house. She knew how to deliver invaluable life's lessons when we were too naïve to learn them on our own.

I can remember three different, yet equally important items she warned me never to lay hands on. One was my father's sleek-looking bottles of Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon which always sat high upon a shelf and beyond my reach. Another was my father's old .38 caliber Smith & Wesson, walnut-handle revolver. Since I was only 9 years old, fear was the motivating factor for obeying this house rule.

But there was another group of items my mother tirelessly advised me against handling. With these objects, her heavy-handed decree was delivered with the same (if not more) admonishment as the bourbon and handgun. In fact, I began to believe that her caution against touching these specialties was the fiercest of all.

Standing in our small, shag carpeted dining room was an old, rustic china cabinet which held some of my mother's most prized possessions. Unlike the dishes we used for Sunday dinners and ice cream treats, the "good" china rested alone and untouched inside the cabinet.

These esteemed, crème-colored pieces were placed there long before I was born and I never saw them outside the cabinet. Each time I passed it, I would peer through the faded, cracked glass, hoping to catch a glimpse of the prestigious dinnerware. On several occasions, my mother caught me glaring at the towering structure and proceeded to remind me of the house rules: “Don't open that cabinet and you'd better not mess with my good china," she said.

The reasons why I wasn't allowed to open the cabinet, or why we never used the good china, baffled me. Even after two general population dinner plates were dropped and shattered during a poor dishwashing performance by a 9-year old, the good china remained protected and hidden behind a glass wall.

Several years later while attending college, I was convinced that my newly acquired knowledge of philosophy and human behavior was enough ammunition to dissect the reasons why my mother never used the good china. At one point, when I obviously believed an unintelligent query was appropriate, I asked her why the decorative plates and dishes were never allowed to hold a warm meal. She looked at me—smiled—shook her head—and walked into an adjacent room.

The passing of time didn't bring any relief to my inquisitive mind, but I never again asked about the china. My mother's reaction, at the time, was more puzzling than my attempts to understand why she kept the china hidden. Even so, her reaction was definitive and I never inquired about the response she gave.

Through the years, I occasionally wondered why the plates, silverware and glasses were not used, and if other families had similar dishes with restrictions. Were the pieces being reserved for special guests? Were we not distinguished enough to use our own tableware? If so, who were we saving them for?

As I matured, the questions ceased and I began to understand the importance of having good china and why my mother held the pieces in such high regard. I learned that protecting the china had little to do with the actual merchandise, and more to do with respect. My mother could have used the china whenever she wanted, but personal use wouldn't generate joy.

I soon realized that there are things in life we retain for purposes or reasons others may not fathom. Whether those things are antique jewels, moments in history, or our own intimate space, having them gives us the ability to reserve respect, consideration, and courtesy for those we have yet to meet. Some of us wait patiently for a loving partner—while others prepare financially for their unborn children's children. Whatever the purpose, we should all save a spot, a dance, a treasure, a love... for unseen beauty.

Part of the uniqueness and specialty associated with guarded possessions comes with our ability to hold on to them through good times and bad. Being bathed in history and experience gives these possessions more significance when worthy beings become their beneficiaries.

Not to be out-classed by the breakable items in the china cabinet, my mother also kept a stash of bath towels and washcloths—which were also restricted. Once, I managed to brush my hand across one of the high-class towels and I immediately knew they were special. I never touched them again.

It took me a while to figure it out, but my mother believed in holding on to something special. She knew that the things we cherish today will be adored tomorrow.

It's just a guess, but if an extremely important person visited us during those days, I'm thinking they would have been honored to have plenty of clean plates and fluffy towels at their disposal.

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