“Everyday Use” is a short story by Alice Walker that you probably read in a high school or college English class. A story you probably hated because you read it in an English class. I’ve always liked the story though, because like good literature should it always gets me thinking. In case you didn’t do your homework, I’ll give a painfully oversimplified rundown of the plot. (My apologies Alice Walker! Surely it can’t be worse than Spark Notes.) The story features an encounter between a mother and her two daughters. One daughter, Dee, has gone off to college where she believes she has rediscovered her African heritage while the other daughter, Maggie, has stayed home helping her mother. Dee has come home to visit and asks her mother if she can have some of the family quilts that were pieced by hand, quilts that were promised to Maggie. When the mother tells Dee the quilts belong to Maggie, Dee gets upset saying her sister couldn’t appreciate the quilts and would “probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.” After some more arguing, Dee leaves in a huff telling her mother and sister that they don’t understand their heritage. Every time I read the story I can’t decide which sister is right. Is it better to hang the quilts on the wall for display or to use the quilt for what it was intended? Do either of the options really give the quilts the respect they deserve?
I was thinking about this the other day when I was putting away some dishes that I rarely use. They were a gift from my grandmother and since she gave them to me five or six years ago I’ve used them twice. The majority of that time they’ve sat in carefully packaged boxes in my storage room. They’ve been carefully preserved, but for most intents and purposes they have been wasted. As I was looking at the naked cupboard tops in my kitchen I was struck with brilliance on how I could give the dishes some “proper respect.”
I pulled my “fancy” dishes from the basement and arranged them on top of the cupboards. Now they’re not only serving as practical decorations that brighten my kitchen, but they’re reminding me that I should use them. Maybe not everyday, but I think any day has the potential to be a little special.