Saturday, November 13, 2010

Making it Home: Better than a Registry, or How a Single Girl Got Matching Dishes

Children come up with all kinds of reasons not to wear certain clothes: maybe the color is yucky, or the collar scratchy, or the sleeves too short.  My favorite reason, however, is one I gave to my mother when I was a preschooler: I refused to wear a jacket because it had no story to go along with it. 

To understand this protest, you must know that all my clothes were second-hand when I was a child. (I remember having a pair of new jeans for the first time when I was in middle school, and I think my first brand-new dress came when I was fifteen).  When helping me dress for church or play, my parents would tell me about the person who handed down that article to me. Thus, when my mother somehow obtained a new jacket for me, I naturally asked her who used to wear it.  “No one,” she said. “This is new.”  New?  I would have none of it.  

Growing up in this culture of hand-me-downs and storied things has saved me from a good deal of discontent in my life, most recently regarding wedding registries.

Really and truly, I love seeing what people put on their wedding registries.  Especially for friends I have seen live in Spartan bachelor pads or serve dinner parties on mismatched collections Corelle ware, these registries help me imagine the look of their “grown-up” households and, in turn, the new lives they will be building with their spouses. 

Sometimes, I must confess, I have been jealous of these registries.  It isn’t just that I find it unfair that some people manage to get lifelong commitment and matching dishes all at the same time: of course it is unfair, but it is also very, very good. At its root, my concern has been one of validation: I love registries most because I know that for the rest of their lives, my friends will know that much of their everyday, essential household equipage came from people who know and love them.  Not only that, these gifts confirm that these young adults are setting up a household--a tiny economy of love and work, patience and grace. 

What then, is a single girl (or, more to the point: young woman) to do?  She could buy herself matching dishes and all that, but that’s not satisfying in quite the same way. Though no longer a little girl, I still want things to have stories.  I want to look at my cups and saucers and think, “Oh, so-and-so gave that to me.” 

With these ideas in mind, I walked through my apartment earlier this week, trying to note all the things that have been given to me.  As I made the list (below), I was quickly convicted that any yearning for a registry is greedy and ungrateful.  Little by little over the years, my family and friends have equipped me with all the good things--all and much, much more--I need to make a home for myself and others. 

These things are precious to me, so much so that, to be honest, I would be reluctant to replace most of them.  When I look at my home, I realize I have been given something far better than a registry. To some extent, people feel compelled to bring gifts to a wedding. It is expected.  In contrast, my friends and family have filled my house in quiet, unlooked-for ways. Even the soap in my shower and the toothpaste on my vanity, I realized, were given to me. What follows is not a complete list--I have catalogued only the things I use or notice nearly every day--and I have not allowed myself to tell the story behind each thing, limiting myself to the names of the givers.

These are the things they have brought me: 

In my bedroom: 

- quilt made by my great-grandmother
- yoga mat from Kareem
- hair-dryer from Mary
- curtains (and at least 1/3 of my skirts) made by my mother
- CDs from Julianna and Nathaniel
- jewelry from Hunter, Jenn, Mandy, and Rachel
- a sewing machine, given to my mother when she graduated from high school, then handed down to me
- framed, illuminated manuscript of Jeremiah 29.11 from Mr. and Mrs. Harrison
- knitting needles from Lennon 
- staple gun Mark and Keith gave me
- computer printer from Emily

In my living room:

-  the set of The Chronicles of Narnia my parents read to me, crumbling dust jackets and all
- countless beautiful books from Will, Hunter, Dave, and others
- an eccentric DVD collection, supplied mostly by my great-aunt Martha
- a television from Martin 
- tools for my spinning wheel from Margaret, Hunter, and my father

In my kitchen
- circra 1970 Oster stand mixer from Mary (and her mother before her)
- that lovely oak-lef mug from Mark 
- cookbooks Rachel and Jenn
- one teapot from Lennon, and another from my mother (I drink a lot of tea)
- tea from Eric, Nathaniel, Shannon, Martin, Rachel
- spices from Jenn and Grant
- wind chimes from my mother and aunt Lanette 
- handmade ceramic bowl and mug made by Mari 
- spatula from Eric
- my grandmother's cast-iron skillet
- my great-grandmother's bread board 
- an enormous bottle of Mexican vanilla from Jon and Steph 
- pear butter from Amy
Finally, if you open my cabinets, you will find a set of matching dishes (an amazing yard-sale find, in exactly the pattern I wanted) from my mother.

I could make this list much longer, but I hope it is already clear that I have many reasons to be grateful, and not one good reason to covet anyone’s registry.  

I wish I could give you all friends as attentive and generous as my own. I hope that I am half as generous as they. However, I can encourage myself and you to be such friends.  Watch, listen, look for something small and essential you can give a friend.  Be old-fashioned. Pray over it. Don't make them wait for a wedding registry. 

What everyday things do you have that have been gifts or hand-me-downs? For those who are married, what were the most meaningful/useful gifts you received? 


  1. Bethany,
    I'm absorbing your words and your perspective while not yet ready to answer your question. However, in the meantime, I just want to say that your view on life and relationships is very refreshing. Thank you for using your gift of writing to influence my day today. Keep writing...make it a book someday. I'll buy the first copy.

  2. Hey Bethany, I've really enjoyed reading your blog! This post had me looking around my living room making a mental catalogue of the stories behind everyday objects. My great-grandmother's candle sticks given to me by a once-estranged great aunt and the various ceramic bowls given to us for our wedding are objects with stories I'm particularly proud of. I actually thought about this the other day when I took out the cloth napkins we received for our wedding from a friend who lives far away and is no longer really in our lives. The pattern on the napkins makes me think of her art work every time I use them, and I experience a twinge of regret for having moved away. I think of all of these objects as vehicles of memory, inspirations for prayer, and representations of commitments, joys, and regrets from various parts of my life.

    I have also been aware of the stories behind objects as a new mother. I am storing up stories to tell my son about the things he's being given as a newborn.

  3. I love you. I'm so thankful for these gifts in your home and for your new perspective. :)

    My favorite Wedding gift is a clock. It has hung in each of our three living rooms since the day we returned from our honeymoon. Mike's high school Spanish teacher gave it to him. Nearly four years after he'd last stepped foot in her class, she drove an hour out of town (in the snow) to attend his wedding. She also bought us a beautiful wall clock that I had put on our registry on a whim. :) I still love its classic look and design. Most of all, it reminds me of the kind of man God has given me. A man who, even as an adolescent, had a positive affect on others.

    My favorite hand-me-down is my house. :) I know that's not really a gift in the traditional sense, but I use it every day, and it's certainly been used by others before me. It was originally built as a parsonage and two other families have lived in it since it passed out of the ownership of the church. I can't help but feel that God has set this house aside for His purposes, and I'm *so* excited that I get to live here and be a part of whatever He has planned for this home. :)

  4. The few items I can as I read this post from my bedroom are the following:

    - field radio that allows me to listen to NPR came from FBC of Middlesboro, KY. A gift for my summer internship with their youth in 2007.

    - green faux leather recliner came from Lee's grandmother.

    - two knitted blankets, one knitted by Grandma Wanda and another by Bellinda.

    - quasi-quilt made by my Mom and Bellinda. All blankets are keeping me warm this fall.

  5. That's it. I'm sending you a couple wooden spoons for Christmas. E-mail me your postal address.

    I think some of our favorite wedding gifts were the unconventional ones (which were, nevertheless, on our registry). The fire-safe for our documents, given to us by the youth group we sponsored, the oil pan for doing oil changes given us by a college friend, and especially the plunger given to us by a friend. Over the years we have collected more storied items. Every one of my coffee cups in my office has a little story with it, for example. Our couch was given to us by a family we stayed with when we first moved to Texas. Our dining room table, although rickety, is an heirloom from my wife's side of the family, and was made by one of her great-uncles.

    I could go on, but many, many of our belongings have stories behind them.