Here's Why We Ought To Use Our Good China Every Day, According to Antiques Dealer Ajiri Aki

Ajiri Aki
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki

From Veranda

Growing up a skinny little knob-kneed Nigerian girl in Austin, Texas, during the 1980s, prime time television was my sacred source of education on fitting in to be more “American.” I loved watching family television shows like Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Full House. My two brothers and I would spend hours lying in front of the TV with our chins propped up on our knuckles, and our eyes glued to the screen. Didn’t every kid do that back then? #dontjudge

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki

I picked up style tips and new words from the kids in those shows, and learned how families in America functioned. The families were interesting to me because they were so different from mine. My favorite prime time culture lesson was dinner time in American households. All the kids and their unforgettable quirky friends named Cockroach, Jazzy, Cornflake, Kimmy Gibbler, and of course, Steve Urkle, never passed on the chance to join the loving parents at the set table. Occasionally, an oddball relative would also pop in for dinner and a lively conversation would ensue.

Of course, it was lost on my little tween mind that this was probably a production ploy to bring the crazy cast of characters together in one scene to stir up the plot or create a funny digression for the viewer. However, even if I knew, I wouldn’t have cared because I loved those moments. I loved the joy, conviviality, and the swell of emotions that came to the table. There was something special about all the people sitting together talking, laughing, and sharing thoughts. I loved the mixed generations and personalities as well as the friendships, big reveals, and even the denouncements.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki

Even as a child, I appreciated the beautifully orchestrated chaos of different arms reaching across pretty china and a tablecloth. I wanted to mimic the adults who clinked shiny silver cutlery to a crystal glass before an announcement. Also the dramatic moments when someone slammed a fabric napkin down and stormed off contributed to my fascination with this ritual.

Things at my house looked a bit different than what I saw on TV. When I came home from school, a giant pot was usually sitting on the stove with some strongly-scented Nigerian dish demanding my name. Like the sitcoms, we had the extra family members always floating in and out of our homes, but none of our American friends wanted to stay for dinner.

When hunger crept up, I would walk past my mother’s treasured china cabinet on my way to the kitchen and grab some primary-colored tupperware plate from the cabinet, and serve myself a plate. Then I plopped down in front of the TV, with a paper napkin of course.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki

But let’s go back to my mother’s treasured dark wood cabinet full of translucent temptations and shiny things I was forbidden to touch. Walking past it was painful. Through its glass doors I could see ceramics and antique finds from my mother’s Saturday garage sale trips as well as her precious wedding china. Half of it was on display, and the rest of it was nicely packed away in the bottom doors in padded containers. The drawers that pulled out were velvet-lined with shiny sets of elegant flatware adorned with gold accents running along the handles.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki

These treasures haunted my desires on that daily walk to the tupperware. Routinely, I asked, “Mommy, when can we set the table with the pretty china plates?” Her response was always the same: “Not today. I’m waiting for a special occasion.” I never gave up asking, and she stayed true to her response.

One year, we were hosting Easter with many of our Nigerian friends from church, and I knew this could certainly be classified as a special occasion. Nevermind that Nigerians gather to celebrate darn near everything, including a 10 year old’s graduation to middle school. I reminded my mother, while sticking out of some pastel-colored frilly version of my Sunday best, that it was Easter, which means the Lord has risen and that is a special occasion. A devout christian she was, she couldn’t deny my liturgical reasoning and granted my wish. (Maybe the dress helped?)

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki

Together we set our table for 12 people. Oh, it was a glorious ritual that I had never experienced before! I joined my mother in setting a plate in front of each chair at the table and placing the appropriate cutlery beside each person’s plate. As I tried to follow the naturally graceful effort of my mom, I placed the items slowly and ceremoniously to savor the moment she was sharing with me. After we were done, we stood back and looked at the table together. It was marvelous. I immediately became lost in imagining my TV sitcom moment to come. (I ignored the part in my dream when an Easter ham would sit on the table next to fried goat meat and foofoo.)

Eventually, I was brought back to the present by the sound of my mother clearing the table and returning my porcelain dreams to her precious cabinet. What in the world was she doing? I watched in horror. The reality was all the more confirmed when she closed those dark wooden doors and the sound of the china disappeared behind their ivory knob. She told me we couldn’t use these for Easter lunch because someone would probably break them. So we had lunch with our guests on paper plates and the primary-colored tupperware.

I never gave up asking to set the table even though her response was equally unwavering. She was waiting for a special occasion—which sadly never came for her. My mother passed away when I was 12 years old.

One of my saddest but most vivid memories was a week before her passing. She pulled me into her room and told me that soon all the beautiful china would be mine and that I could set the table whenever I wanted. My mother never ate on “the good china” that she loved and treasured, but I promised myself I wouldn’t make the same mistake and neither should you.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ajiri Aki

Every day is worthy of “the good china” and all the pretty pieces you buy. You chose them for their beauty or story and they bring you joy. You deserve to use them. I also believe you're offering someone a gift when you share your treasures and welcome them to your table. Why buy antiques and special pieces only to lock them away in a dark cabinet? Perhaps like the sitcoms of my childhood you want to bring people together for memorable moments or maybe you're just enjoying a quiet dinner alone. Both of these occasions are deserving of your best pieces.

Don't be like my mother and wait for a day that may never come. There is no day like today. Every day is a special occasion, so bust out the good china and all your table treasures.

Born in Nigeria and raised in Texas, Ajiri Aki spent 10 years working in New York City in the fashion industry for companies including W Magazine, WWD, DNR, and Suede Magazine. After working at The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of the City of New York in costume history, she pursued a masters degree in Decorative Arts from Bard College in New York City. Aki now lives in Paris with her husband and two small children.

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