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Polishing the Silver

When I surveyed the stuffed closet in my son’s room, which used to be my office and before that was my dining room, the heavy cherry silver chest stared back at me. It’s been with me for most of my life. The closet is filled with shelves of family heirlooms and storage totes of old work papers and supplies. Oh, and the new sewing machine that I still don’t know how to turn on.

But it was the silver chest that caught my eye. The silver chest belonged to my grandmother who filled it with family silver, her own silver service and special pieces she picked up over the years at consignment shops. She loved her silver and taught me at a young age how to properly care for it properly so that it would maintain that breathtaking mirror forever.

After lugging the chest to the kitchen, I opened it to see some badly tarnished pieces. I can’t help but think what my grandmother would say if she saw how I’d let them go. It was never on purpose or deliberate, but it happened. It’s my fault.

I gathered up the worst pieces and headed to the just-cleaned sink. Rummaging through the cabinet for the little blue pot of silver polish, I found it — cracked and dried, but still usable.

So I polished, rubbing, rinsing and rubbing again, until it was shining again. I retrieved more from the silver chest, and then moved onto platters and bowls, until I had banished most of the tarnish from the delicate, heirloom pieces. Some will need another cleaning to try to restore them to their former glory/

After drying it and putting the silver away, I couldn’t help but think about the irony of tarnish. If the silver was copper, the dark halo of age would be beautiful and relished. On copper, the tarnish is known as patina — that lovely green film that creeps over copper when it’s been sufficiently exposed to salty air. It’s natural and welcomed in shoreline towns. Heck, an artificial process was even developed to force that minty patina onto copper.

Funny how tarnish on one is a grotesque sign of neglect and patina on another is a cherished sign of age.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to eat off a copper fork that has a patina … so maybe there is something there.

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