When I look at you, I imagine tea parties with pretty cakes, cream scones and ladies, lipsticked and hair lacquered. I imagine a kettle whistling on a stove top, a hostess wearing a flowered apron tied at the waist and a coiffed 1950s hairstyle. I imagine the tinkle of teaspoons and the soft timbre of female chatter – and occasional peels of high-pitched laughter – from the sun-filled dining room beyond.
Other times I imagine a trio of diners – mother, father and young son – sitting down to a family meal of the roast meat and three veg variety served on your handsome dinner plates, followed by a pudding – or perhaps fruit salad – in your dainty dessert bowls.
I discovered you – a pretty, flower-patterned china tea set, gifted to us by the elderly gentleman who sold us his beloved family home – in a sideboard, which he also left behind. A neat, hand-written note was propped alongside you: “With compliments, Bryan.”
Of English decent you were made to to serve six, and still comprise all your dinner plates, side plates, cups and saucers, and delicate bowls with a pretty, frilled edge. Your completeness unnerves me: I don’t want to be the one to smash a plate, or crack a tea cup; to splinter your history.
Our elderly friend has returned, by invitation, on several occasions to share meals with us. I send him home with leftovers in plastic containers. The first few times he visited, we’d made only minor changes to the gorgeous, Art Deco home he’d surrendered to younger owners.
More recently, walls have been repainted, the dusty shag pile carpet has been ripped up, and the floorboards – exposed for the first time in their history – have been polished to warm, buttery hues. We’ve redressed the pretty lead-lined windows with neat blinds that block out the dazzling early morning sun and sheer, floor-length curtains that flutter – breathtakingly – in the breeze when the windows are cast wide open.
Worried that our elderly guest would be saddened in this newly decorated, former home of his, I served our last, shared meal on you: the dinner set he bequest us. We talked over long-simmered lamb, tomato and rosemary casserole, with mounds of buttered mash and steamed green beans. Then we tucked into homemade steamed golden syrup puddings with lashings of custard from your dainty dessert bowls.
“Hardly used,” he said of the dinner set that he remembers his mother buying about 60 years ago, possibly from the Australian department store, David Jones. Your infrequent outings explains your completeness, but exacerbates my worried guardianship.
That you continue to reside in the only home you have ever known pleases me. You belong here: to this house. You both share a past, shared a family: a father, a mother and a young boy called Bryan.