I heard it more than once today. “Oh, look at at that. It’s almost to pretty to use!” A potholder, a dish cloth. My hard work combined with well-chosen materials. Not art, but pretty close to craft. Lovely. But for some, not meant for the hard work of life.
Why? Why do we save special and nice and enjoyable things and never use them? You’ve admired that potholder, right? Will you continue to enjoy it if you leave it in a drawer, or if you pull it out every day to lay under a dish of your family’s dinner? “Oh,” you say, “but it might get dirty. It will get worn. It will get ruined.”
Yes, but in the same way that the Velveteen Rabbit did. It’s one of my favorite stories (truth be told, preferably in PBS video format, narrated by Meryl Streep). The special toys stay on the shelf, to be admired, not for play. Then the boy gets sick. The Rabbit gets loved and hugged and smooshed and sweated on and shoved under blankets. His fur rubs off in spots, and the pink in his nose fades.
He was a lovely Rabbit, to begin with, almost too pretty to play with. The boy, though, will always remember the Rabbit he loved and held through sickness, in a way he’d never remember a rabbit on the shelf.
There is no reason for us to be limited to boring, drab, utilitarian stuff in our lives. I want my dish cloths and potholders and bibs and stoles and everything else I make to be used. I want the owners to enjoy them, to feel that tiny thrill every time they grab that beautiful coaster from the drawer to rest their glass on, or grab a hot pan with a carefully stitched potholder, or snap a funky bib on their baby, knowing the sweet potatoes will soon cover the design. If you have to wash dishes, why not wash them with a colorful handmade lacy dish cloth? Won’t it add just a touch of pleasure to a tedious chore?
I want my pieces to be loved, to become worn and faded and threadbare. I also want to change our mindset. I want people to look at a lovely dish or napkin and think, “that’s too pretty NOT to use.” Break out the fine china for pizza on a Tuesday night. Set up the antique candlesticks for Saturday morning breakfast. Yes, they might break or be scratched or otherwise be “ruined,” but they will have served the purpose for which they were made. If your best stuff were destroyed tomorrow in a fire or flood or tornado, wouldn’t you rather still have the memories of using your grandmother’s silver, or forever have imprinted in your mind the image of the quilted bib your daughter wore day after day, instead of the regret of always keeping them tucked away for “safe-keeping?”
Go to your closets, drawers, attics. Pull out all those too-fancy, too-pretty, too-special things. Use them. Care for them, but do not create an idol out of them. Allow them to get stained and scratched and worn. See the wine stain and remember the party and the friends who were there. Feel the filling coming out of the pillow and reminisce about naps on the couch when your teenager was an infant. Realize that you smile every time you grab that one potholder, the one with the threads coming loose and the burn mark on the back.
And never again find yourself saying, “It’s almost too pretty to use.”