The China Cabinet

The topic for 52 Ancestors this week is Heirloom. I’ve been lucky enough to have inherited a few things from my ancestors, either because no one else wanted them or they were gifts from my aunts or parents: a desk that my great-great-grandfather owned, jewelry and jewelry boxes from my both my grandmothers, handkerchiefs and painted china from my great-grandmother. I also have a few things from a woman we adopted as a grandmother. Each one has a story and meaning associated with it. This post is the story of my grandmother’s china cabinet.

The china cabinet sat in my grandmother’s dinning room for as long as I remember. The cabinet sat to the right of the porch door and an old buffet sat to the left of the door, creating a formal backdrop to family dinners. Three interior shelves held several sets of floral china and a silver service sat on top.

The cabinet stands about 5.5 feet tall and about 2 feet deep. A single door, flanked by two narrower panes of glass, allows access inside the cabinet. There is glass on 3 sides of the cabinet, making it a display case. Turned legs, wood decorations on the front, and wood cutouts on the two narrow front glass panes give it a little elegance. We don’t know where it came from originally, but my dad remembers it being in his maternal grandmother’s house.

As a teenager, I would be tasked to pull china out to help set the table for holiday dinners. Opening the delicate little latch that just held the door closed, a faint smell would come from the cabinet. A smell of wood and varnish and perhaps oldness, if oldness has a smell. I remember family members admiring the china in the cabinet during dinners. But most of the time, it stood there unobserved.


When my grandmother went to live in a retirement home, the cabinet went with her. This time it held photographs of parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren. When she moved to assisted living, the cabinet went to my aunt’s garage, and after my grandmother’s funeral a couple weeks later, we loaded it into a minivan and drove it 10 hours to my home.

Over the years, I’ve filled it with different things and moved it several times. After getting married and buying a house, I collected a set of my grandmother’s china from my parent’s house (china that my dad bought for my grandmother) and filled the bottom shelf of the cabinet. The other shelves hold trinkets from places I’ve visited, serving dishes, vases, and gifts from dear friends. I can still catch the smell it had at my grandmother’s house when I open the cabinet and it causes my heart to flood with memories and love.

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