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Unpacking my mother’s china sends me back into her life so vividly. I wash and dry each piece by hand and put them away very gently.

My mother was a fifties woman. She did what was expected of her. She raised her children. She loved us in the only way that her duty to us would allow. Her words were reprimands, or instructions. The echoes of her so rare laughter are recorded in the twisted mental scrapbook of my childhood.

She managed, she got through. She raised five children. She taught us to be practical. Everything had a place. We all learned our work ethic from her. She learned to sew. She learned to grow tomatoes. She learned canning. She tried. She always gave it her best.

Our dad took a powder in my senior year of high school, and she was faced with looking for work after twenty years of being a wife and mother. She managed that too. I am proud of her. And I am so sorry that she is gone.

She was a battered woman. Mentally, emotionally scarred. Her husband was better educated, stronger and frankly, meaner than she was. The women of her generation were raised to be wives and mothers. If your husband told you were stupid, then you must be stupid. If said he was going “out” you didn’t ask why, or where.

In my mind, her life plays out in stark black and white snapshots with brittle edges. She gave everything she had, everything she was, to her family. She didn’t know how to ask for anything for herself. Who would she ask anyway?

I can’t even imagine how she came to possess these china dishes. They are so unlike her, these delicate pink pieces. There are six plates, two with tiny fracture lines in them, six salad plates, four honest-to-god saucers, and four little coffee-cups with tiny handles for only lovely, well groomed fingers to touch. I believe there once was a covered dish and a platter that belonged to the set, but I do not have those pieces.

My mother bit her nails and chewed on her cuticles until they bled. She smoked most of her life. She believed in a God who would save her. She had a life of hard work. How did she come to own this silly pink china?

As I think of it, it must have been a dream of hers. A princess sort of dream. My poor little mother, with pretty pink china, who never got to be anybody’s princess.

Lesson? Don’t give it all to your husband, or even your children. Save something for yourself. Save your honor, your strength, your true nature. Do not fold yourself into the envelope of his requirements. Do not become the empty, discarded piece of humanity that he tells you that you are.
Love yourself first.
Then, if you still have your mother, love her while you can.