Be Your Guest

by Cheney — July 9, 2018

soap, good soap, good china, guests, childhood, mothers

Who exactly are these people that we save all our nicest things for? Are they ever going to actually show up? Or should we just keep polishing the silver, just in case?

I was recently reminded about “good soap”.

Apparently not just a concept limited to my childhood home, they were something many of my friends also remember having. Small decorative soaps, usually in a dish, placed in a bathroom that guests were likely to use. It was strictly forbidden for residents of the house to use the soaps for something so common as washing their hands. They were only for making the bathroom look appealing to guests. And they were nearly always shaped like seashells. In our house, the dish that held the soaps was also shaped like a seashell.

The good soap was next to the good hand towels, which were embroidered but not especially soft. There were good scissors – my mother’s sewing scissors that my brother, at great peril to himself, once used to cut some of my hair. We didn’t have good pillows, like some of my other friends, to be carefully removed from the bed before sleeping. We definitely had good china though. The good china got much less good once we were forced to actually use it at a particularly crowded Christmas dinner, but it was still carefully washed by hand and put away in a glass-fronted cabinet. I believe my great-grandmother had entire good rooms – forbidden to children, and full of furniture fit only for a certain class of guest.

All those throw pillows. Better sit against the wall.

As I got older I realised that when it came to using good stuff, the bar to entry was too high. It seemed sad that the person who bought the good thing wasn’t considered good enough to use it. Our good soaps and their decorative dish were dusted occasionally, but remained unused for years until they eventually dried out and were thrown away. I once visited a deceased estate auction with an impressive wine collection and was struck by the sight of those full bottles, waiting for a special occasion that never arrived. After that, I promised myself I would drink the good wine and use the good china, because you could never be sure that the best time to do so wasn’t right now.

In my own apartment, few things are off-limits either to myself or visitors. Some of this is a space constraint. My bathroom sink is too narrow for any sort of decorative dish, and linen closet too small to contain towels we don’t use. Mostly though, it’s because I’m trying to convince myself that I’m good enough right now. Good enough for the fancy soaps and wine, or to buy flowers and put them in the good vase. Even if it is just a random Tuesday. I do well at sticking to this most of the time, but I have found myself hoarding expensive bubble bath on occasion for emergencies. Ultimately, we should aim to treat ourselves like we would our own best guest. Pull out all the stops, hell, use all the rooms of the house. Though I have no idea where one might purchase a collection of small, seashell-shaped soaps.

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