A grandmother’s china is a common family heirloom that many families treasure and carefully preserve, passing it down from generation to generation.
Christa Jones shares in that tradition-she carefully handles the partial set of Limoges china she stores in her dining room side buffet. But there’s a unique story behind the dishes-about the relative who was the original owner. “My grandmother’s grandmother was a slave,” she explains, “and she received the china from her owner, as a token of thanks and of friendship.”
Christa’s great-great-grandmother, Amy Love, was a house servant on a plantation in a small rural town in Georgia. “The plantation owner’s wife was very kind to the slaves who worked for her and after the war, many of her former slaves stayed because they had nowhere else to go, and also because she was very good to them,” Christa explained. “The owner didn’t have a lot of money after the war, and when her former slaves would leave, she gave them pieces of her china as a present.”
Christa’s great-great-grandmother inherited the china after the plantation owner died. “Amy worked willingly after the war, even though she was free, and like many others, for no money, just for a place to live and for food,” she said. “I look at the china as a symbol of their friendship together, as something positive. I don’t feel badly at all.”
The Limoges china is white and yellow with delicate daisies, and it is edged in 22-karat gold.
“I have fingertip bowls, a teapot, plates, a creamer.” Most of the time, the china stays firmly under cover in the buffet.
“I always serve breakfast on it Christmas morning,” she says. “It’s a family tradition, and I usually have my dad over that day, and we eat breakfast served on the china.”
Christa said the dishware has been passed down on her father’s side to the oldest child for several generations. Her father, Larry Jones, inherited the set and then gave it to Christa after her mother passed away in 2001. The china came to Chicago from Georgia with her father.
The heirlooms have also been the subject of a school report by Josephine Bellini, a middle school student over whom Christa has legal guardianship, together with her elementary school-age sister, Kali.
“I think it’s really neat that she has this china, and it’s so old but really pretty and special,” Bellini said.
She and her sister have created their own history of friendship with Amy Love’s great-great-granddaughter. Christa lived in the same apartment building in Oak Park as the two girls when one was in first grade and the other just 1 year old.
“Kali was just in diapers, and she would crawl out her apartment door and come over and tap on mine,” Christa recalls, laughing. “I would hear this little noise and open the door and there was this cute little baby who would crawl right by me into the house.” Christa would feed and play with her and then take her home.
The girls’ mother was troubled, and sometimes Christa would keep the girls for several days. “At first, I didn’t understand why my sister kept crawling over and visiting her,” said Josephine, now 14. “Then I started coming over and I knew she was a really good person. She fed us and took care of us.”
When it became clear the girls’ mother was making poor decisions and grossly neglecting her children, Christa decided she needed to do more than just sit back quietly.
“At first I didn’t interfere; I just accepted the kids when they came over and let them know they were welcome,” she said. “Then their mother started having men over and leaving the kids alone, and I knew I had to do something.”
Christa had been stepping in more and more frequently, taking the kid to school conferences and events as well as church. She retained a lawyer and, after a few years of court battles and with the support of the children’s teachers and her church members, was granted legal guardianship in 2003.
Christa decided against fostering the girls because she didn’t want them to be separated. “Both girls also have fathers who are still alive, and I wanted to control their contact with them,” she said. One father has a history of drug addiction and the other is a registered pedophile.
“We are a family now,” Josephine says matter-of-factly. “I see my mom sometimes, but I know it is Christa who takes care of us and I love her.” Both girls call Christa “Suga” with affection and both girls have thrived under her care. Josephine is in honors courses at Brooks Middle School. “I tell her she can do anything,” Christa said.
Josephine wants to be a lawyer specializing in children’s welfare rights. “I know what it is like, and I want to help other kids,” she said.
As legal guardian, Christa receives no financial support from their parents or from the government.
She had already raised her own daughter to adulthood but had no second thoughts about beginning again with the two sisters.
“I love them and tell them that when they are adults and successful, they need to keep a room in their house open for me,” she says, laughing, “with Twizzlers.
“Oh yes,” she says with a wink. “That’s my favorite candy. I want to be buried in Twizzlers.”
And when they are successful, Christa Jones will have left an even finer legacy than Limoges.