In the many years that I've enjoyed a kitchen, I've had various plates and cups and saucers, but just two teakettles. Lots of ants. I announce each morning to the toaster, before I put in the bread, ''Everybody out!'' My daughter says you should ignore ants. She says they're traveling and will go on their way when they're ready.
My first teakettle resides in the attic, wrapped in plastic. It's a classic kettle, white enamel with a large capacity, a graceful spout, and a metal bail protected by a wooden handle. Part of my hope chest, it was purchased with money saved by not eating lunch. A worthwhile investment. Water boiled in that teakettle for 35 years; then two tiny holes appeared in the bottom. I replaced it with a smaller enamel kettle of blue and white - a satisfactory performer, but I think often of my old friend in the attic.
Thus the past enthralls. My grandmother's table has rope legs and many leaves. She taught me, carefully, to put the end leaves up and down so as not to pinch my fingers. On Sunday nights we sat around it while she served mush and milk. The plate I used, and many cousins used, is as it was, with white clouds in a blue sky, one gull in flight, and kerchiefed ladies with their baskets constant in the foreground. My daughter's family sit around the table now, but I still have Grandmother's plate.
In a gentle voice, she taught me many things. Shoes must be polished with a soft cloth before putting them away. ''Never put them away warm.'' A blanket should be folded back and forth, like a pleated fan. ''It will then lie flat upon the shelf.'' The best way to mark a blanket is with a small hole, buttonholing around it. ''A name can be removed. She made me doll clothes with lace insertions in the dresses and a silk lining in the coat, and she sent them with a note in an envelope she'd made herself.
So I make doll clothes with fancy buttons and many kinds of hats. I send them with a note. I teach my granddaughter to eat hot soup with a half spoonful from the edge.
We nurture tender feelings for the past, for words we listened to and pictures on a plate. We pass the love along like useful tables while we think about teakettles and sometimes talk to ants.