Grandma’s Dishes

Grandma's Dishes

It was decades ago that my grandmother collected coupons from the A&P grocery store. The goal was to amass enough from her weekly grocery purchases to get an entire set of dishes to give to her granddaughter when she was to leave home. I was in middle school and chose the blue stoneware versus the brown because they were closer to my grandmother’s dishware, and I thought grown-ups ate off blue dishes.

She got an entire set for me: Twelve plates, 12 salad plates, 12 bowls, 12 mugs and saucers. It was a sturdy box with each set separated by corrugated cardboard to protect them from movement. Those dishes stayed in my family home for at least thirty years. We moved to Australia and bought a cheap set as our first from Coles because moving Grandma’s dishes might have caused them to break and with grandma now gone, the dishes gained more import. We moved to Toronto three years later and bought something a little more permanent, this time from IKEA. Ironically, they were brown.

Grandma’s dishes were still in Thunder Bay when we moved to Toronto, as were lots of our belongings. We didn’t move books, winter outdoor clothing, camping and fishing gear, photo albums, linens, and those blue dishes. Mister’s moving package included getting those items from Thunder Bay to our apartment in Toronto. The dishes stayed in the closet untouched and remained earmarked for a cottage should we ever own one.

Several years later, we had a home and moved those dishes yet again. I looked at them sitting in our run-down garage when we moved in and thought about bringing them into our new home, but they were not my style. The exterior cardboard looked to have seen better days, but the dishes were intact. They were taped back up and waited there forgotten.

With two children, we shopped for a cottage and found one that was perfect for our family. We cleaned out the garage to find anything we could repurpose in our new lake property. We found tables and chairs that we had saved for just such a day. There were pots and pans and casseroles. We found old towels and linens that were good enough to get us moved in. And then we rediscovered the dishes tucked into the back corner of the garage that never fit our car. I opened the box and realized they were still not my style, even though our cottage style was garage sale chic. There was no special occasion left. Neither of our children would want them and I no longer wanted them. We were clearing out baby items, unwanted once-valued books and clothing. It was time to move on.

But throwing out those dishes was not something I wanted to do. Nor did I want to donate them into a box in the grocery store parking lot. A friend suggested a women’s shelter. I found one in desperate need and packed up the box and all the baby paraphernalia into our minivan.

I pulled up to the door of the unmarked shelter and pressed the button, signifying I was there and I was safe. The shelter manager came out to help with the load and was incredibly thankful. They had a family come in the dead of night the day before, and they had fled with nothing: no change table, bouncy chair, car seat, warm boots, and no dishes. I was holding the Exersaucer when a woman, obviously very pregnant, came around the corner from a stroll with her two toddlers flanking her. She looked worn, tired, and beaten. Her skin was dark, but the swelling was evident even if the bruising wasn’t. She approached the shelter and worked her way up the stairs we were using as our moving entrance. The manager talked to the woman in hushed tones and then said to me, “Would you like to meet the family that is going to be using your donation?” “Of course!”

It was her. The pregnant woman standing right beside me on the stairs was going to be using grandma’s dishes. We looked at each other and connected without words as mothers. She hugged me close, and we cried while the manager brought her toddlers into the building.

It was at that moment I knew why Grandma had saved those dishes. They weren’t for me; she had saved them for this woman. My job was to find her.


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  1. I still have my Mother’s Wedgewood Soup Tureen which I can’t seem to part with. I have used it for plants and currently it is now just collecting dust. Maybe someday….

    BTW, I tried to e-mail you about something trivial to the Hate Mail address and had it returned to me as undeliverable (again). Am I doing anything wrong, as I’m using your link?

  2. There’s something very special about being able to pass on something connected to someone you love to someone who needs it. I know plenty of us have done the “does this give you joy?” thing but it’s best when something that still gives you joy can also provide joy to others.
    And something else you and your grandmother have in common: you can both dish it.
    Christopher recently posted…Freedom Bus.My Profile

  3. Okay Kristine,
    I wasn’t expecting to start blubbering. Wonderful story! I’ll keep it in mind when I eventually start letting go of all my stuff. As it is, my Mom passed three years now, and my Dad is still trying to find homes for the numerous things that were so much her. I understand that I’m getting her baker’s rack for Christmas this year and I’m already mentally trying to figure out where it will go and how to re-arrange and if I have to let something else go, what that will be. I appreciate things. Many people don’t, but there are several items I have in my home that makes me think of one person or another and that’s what makes it home to me. Mona
    M.L. James recently posted…Advil, pleaseMy Profile

    • I blubbered too. We attach meaning to things when sometimes the meaning might have a greater purpose. Sometimes though, the purpose is your healing and your own beautiful memories. You will find the perfect spot for the baker’s rack and will appreciate it for many years. I have my grandmother’s Oster chopper. Each time I use it, I feel her with me and say hi. I chop more than I need to 🙂

  4. nice. xo

  5. What a beautiful story…. your grandmother would be pleased.

  6. Well Kristine, I’m sure your late Grandma is definitely shining down on you…again you have made her so very proud. This is a beautiful story which brought happy tears to my eyes.

  7. As I was reading your story, I was thinking back to the antiques I struggled letting go of since they were my parents first pieces of furniture when they came to Canada. I related to what you were saying. I didn’t expect your story to end the way it did. Brought tears to my eyes how beautiful it was. I have never had the opportunity to meet any of the people who benefited from anything we donated but I can visualize it now and it makes me smile knowing you had this experience. Thank you for sharing.

    • It is nice to picture the ‘stuff’ we can’t make use of going to a home that will love it. Those chairs we give away have babies climbing on them, grandmas holding court in them, they are used for forts, family dinners, and are loved the way they should be. The dishes gave me a whole new experience with giving and has contributed to my anti-hoarding mentality. 🙂

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