I had just stepped out the door for a morning jog, when I saw a blizzard of pink Styrofoam packing peanuts swirling and skipping down the street. What idiot did that? I thought.
My stomach turned inside out when I realized the eye of the storm was my trash can. Moments before, it had been filled to the brim with the pink packing material, which had cradled my mother's china on its sentimental journey from California to Florida.
The trash men had just been by. It was a windy day. And I had instantly become “that” neighbor! I can't stand people like me.
I dashed down the street and began chasing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pink peanuts, asking myself that for the zillionth time: How did I get into this mess? (Yes, I know smarty-pants. I should have put the peanuts in a drawstring garbage bag, but I didn't. OK?)
It all started just before Thanksgiving. I was setting the holiday table, and suddenly got choked up. A wistful wave of nostalgia washed over me as I flashed on all those holiday dinners around my mother's table on her delicate, ivory china with its hand-painted gold pattern.
Now Dad's gone. Mom is in a rest home, and I'm 3,000 miles away trying to make my own meaningful traditions. The family china was sitting in a box in my brother's garage in California waiting for me to claim it.
Last spring, I cleared out my parents' home, selling and donating their furnishings. I brought home a few items — some jewelry, glassware, an oil painting — but held off on the silver and china. I wasn't ready emotionally (the memories!) or physically (where to put it!) to deal with the 12 place settings.
But as I set the Thanksgiving table, I did some mental math, which sounds like a hand-crank pencil sharpener, and figured that I have likely had more Thanksgivings than I will have.
Forget what anyone tells you. This is the definition of midlife. And it is a crisis. Suddenly, my desire for Mom's china became a stage-five obsession not seen since the days of my pregnancy cravings: I need a barbecue chicken pizza now!
“Please, send the china,” I said to my sister-in-law over the phone. She took the boxes straight to Art Ono, owner of the UPS store in Culver City, Calif., who promptly panicked.
If you want to send a shipper's vital signs into the ozone, just say, “heirloom china.” An all-points bulletin goes out to delivery trucks nationwide, and the entire transportation network goes on red alert. No two boxes of china can travel on the same truck for the same reason that the president and vice president can't fly together. Then the packer corners the market on pink peanuts.
Ono, a certified packing expert, and his crew, who happen to be his kids, took the heirloom china job as seriously as a brain tumor. Several days later, I received three boxes the size of Smart cars, and a smaller fourth box, which held the silver.