teaset header
Photo by Terry Tempest Williams of her heirloom tea set.
Polishing Silver
Terry Tempest Williams is a writer, naturalist, activist, educator—and patient. In this seventh “Dispatch from the Desert,” Terry connects with family tradition.

7 April 2020
Castle Valley, UT


his morning, I asked Brooke what we could do to make this day feel productive. He said (not that interested), “I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” So I walked into the kitchen and sat down on the floor cross-legged and began to clean out a particular cupboard. It held Brooke’s grandmother, Helen Spencer Williams’s silver tea set that his mother, Rosemary had given to us. It was almost black with tarnish. 

tea set with header
Photo by Terry Tempest Williams of her heirloom tea set.

I thought about my own grandmothers and how they would always “polish the silver” before a dinner party or holiday gathering or a Sunday family dinner after church and I suddenly longed for those gatherings. And before I realized it, I instinctively began polishing Helen’s tea set, each piece in hand revealing such beauty of form and purpose. I thought about her hands a century ago, doing this same ritual that took time.

I remembered family stories about her generosity of spirit, how she was kind and honored the dignity of each person. She was said to be curious. I felt close to her though we never met. 

And then, I took the shining tea set outside and put it on our table. I thought about how wonderful that day will be when we can invite neighbors over for tea. I found myself hoping everyone in the valley was okay and healthy and my thoughts traveled to friends and family far and near as my anxious mind returned to me.

I sat down at the table and listened to the quiet and was grateful for the wind.


Terry Tempest Williams

Writer-in-Residence, Harvard Divinity School

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