A beloved tea set returns home in Christmas story of lost and found

A beloved tea set returns home in Christmas story of lost and found

Have you ever given something away only to regret it later?

Susan Dean has.

In 2018, she and her husband John sold their home in Moncton and moved to the village of Alma, about 75 kilometers south of Moncton.

In order to downsize before her move, Dean parted with many items that have been passed down to her over the years, including her late mother’s Christmas tea set.

“I would only use it once a year,” she recalls. “So I just threw it away and gave it to the hospice store.”

A woman pouring tea from a coffee pot with poinsettias into a teacup.
Susan Dean enjoys a cup of tea from the vintage china set she inherited from her late mother. (Mariam Mesbah/CBC)

Poinsettia, a Royal Albert collection, was first produced in England in the 1970s. It features large red poinsettia flowers against a classic white bone china set with gold.

Dean says her mother bought the large coffee pot for the set, which she used to serve tea during the holidays.

During her downsizing, Dean decided to gift the tea set to Moncton’s Boutique Hospice Shoppe because her mother was in hospice care before her death, so donating the set was a way of giving back. She figured family photos from the set and fond memories of her mother would do.

She and her husband moved to Alma that summer, but as her first Christmas in their new home drew near, Dean started thinking about her mother and she began to wish she had never given the set away.

“Whenever I took a trip to Moncton, I would walk into the hospice shop thinking that maybe I might actually see the teapot that I never saw…until this very special day.”

The bottom of a teacup reading "Royal Albert |  bone china |  UK |  Poinsettia |  1976 Royal Albert Ltd"
The Royal Albert Poinsettia collection was first produced in England in the 1970s. (Mariam Mesbah/CBC)

Months after she gave it away and days before Christmas, Dean and her husband were on their way to a holiday event in Moncton when they decided to stop by the boutique Hospice Shopped.

There she saw her late mother’s Christmas china on display. But determined to stay true to her promise to downsize, she resisted the purchase.

“I spent the night thinking about the teapot when we got home,” says Dean. And the next morning I called the hospice shop and asked if it was still there.”

To her relief it was.

However, the seller did mention that a buyer was eyeing the set.

“That’s my mom’s teapot, I really want to buy it back,” Dean said, explaining it to the clerk, who then offered to put it aside.

The next day she went back to the store and bought the set for $125. She wanted to pay for the set instead of simply returning it, to stick with her original motive of returning.

“When I look at this teapot or any china, it just reminds me of my mother. She was a very lovely person, kind and wonderful to be with,” she said.

It made Christmas 2018, and every Christmas since, a very special occasion.

The delights of vintage porcelain

This type of connection is not unique.

Donna Cooper loves vintage china so much that it inspired her to open her business, Elegant Tableware Rentals, in Cape Breton.

With her collection of vintage crockery, cutlery and more than 400 bone china teacups, she provides festive place settings for weddings, baby showers and other celebrations.

A dining table is set with various porcelain teacups, saucers and teapots.
Donna Cooper has a large collection of crockery and china for rent. She says nostalgia plays a role in people’s association with porcelain teacups. (Submitted by Donna Cooper)

“It seems to give people this nostalgic feeling because their grandmother or mother had this porcelain pattern or they inherited it,” she says.

While collecting chinaware isn’t as popular today as it was in previous generations, Cooper believes vintage china is making a comeback.

“People lead such busy lives. I think people want to slow down a bit,” she says. “If you don’t use it and enjoy it, you will have no memories of it. And when children grow up, they will look back fondly on their mother’s china.”

Emotional connection to family heirlooms

And even if family heirlooms are rarely used, they’re more important than we might realize.

Chris Helland, a sociology professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says such connections can be very powerful.

“These types of objects really connect us in a deep and meaningful way to our past, to our traditions, to our families and to our communities, and to our own history and identity,” he said.

“If these rituals are lost, the question arises, what do we have to associate with them?”

Helland says while celebrating special events like holidays help anchor our connection with family, so do tangible items like crockery and cutlery.

“I think the family dinners with these special items, I think that’s an important part of who we are.”

Susan Dean shares this feeling.

“I think there are some family heirlooms that we feel very close to. Even if we try to give them away, even if I probably shouldn’t have given them away, there’s just a certain connection we have with them.”

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