Friday, March 6, 2009

The Roots in Service for Eight

Once a week I blog on Service for yourLDSneighborhood. I’ve departed from the usual meaning of the word—compassionate acts done for our fellow man—on several occasions. I blogged about the advent of self service at gas stations and about the poet Robert Service. I’m going to depart once again and blog about dishes.



When I was a young woman the world was very different from what it is now. The interesting thing is that a lot of the social expectations that were in place at that time had been there for hundreds of years. One of those expectations was that, when a young woman reached puberty, she began working on acquiring linens and dishes to put in her hope chest, so when she married, she would be able to set up housekeeping. It was probably the American equivalent of a dowry, and it was still very much alive and well in the mid-fifties when I was a teenager.



One of the things that every young lady aspired to have in her hope chest was a set of china and a set of silver. My mother married during the depression. She came from a family so poor that they didn’t notice much of a change in the fall of 1929, and when she married, her mother gave her a set of sheets for a wedding present. That was the extent of her hope chest, and there were no other wedding presents.



The character Ruth in my latest book Counting the Cost is based on the lady who came from back east and fell in love with a cowboy, my uncle. Her family was urbane, and she was schooled in all the social niceties, and she taught my mother all the little unwritten social rules: how to set a table with proper china and silver, when you could wear white shoes, what colors could be worn together.

I remember my mother was determined to have a set of good dishes and silverware. The family budget wouldn’t stretch to accommodate the fine English bone china she set her heart on, so she went to work in the fields picking potatoes to earn the money. It took her two or three seasons of riding the potato digger to finally be able to afford service for twelve. The pattern of her china was Marlow (at left), made by Minton. Her sterling was Rondo, by Gorham.

Mother made sure that I had service for eight in china and sterling, too. During my own immediate family’s lean years, I would often serve elegant dinners on Family Home Evening, and we’d lay out salad fork, dessert fork, dinner fork, cocktail fork, soup spoon, teaspoon, case knife and butter spreader beside the Moss Rose china so the kids would be comfortable with a formal table setting and company manners, even though we couldn’t afford to eat out at a nice restaurant.

The remodeling of the dining room coincided with several other family crises, and the china that got packed away when we tore out the built-in china cupboard never got unpacked. I have to confess that life became so complicated that there were stretches of time that I couldn’t deal with dishes, and though what I cooked was good and nutritious, we ate it on paper plates.



A trip to east Texas changed that for me. I went to visit a distant cousin to document some family history, and we were invited to lunch at an old relative’s house. The gracious southern hospitality, the feel of the china, the linens and silverware were all like water to a thirsty soul, and I went home determined to change my ways.


I didn’t ever unpack the china, but I invested in a set of Corelle and made sure that the table was set properly for dinner every night. Paper plates are throwaway, but dishes last for centuries. They speak of roots and traditions and give children the sense of knowing who they are and how they fit into the scheme of things.



I found my mother’s china pattern on the internet. Just seeing it there made me sense her energy, feel her near, remember what she taught me. I guess using good dishes gives older ladies that same sense of roots and place.

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3 comments:

Monique said...

Liz I love this post! My family comes from France and I am the first generation born here in the US. My family held this tradition very dear to their hearts. I wasn't born in the fifties but I know the feelings of home when I see my mothers china and when I open my own cedar chest which is now used for linens. I don't have a set of china or silver for myself but I own some Bed Bath and Beyond specials that came at half price and I treasure them. My mother plans to pass down her china when she moves from this life to the next and I intend to keep it and use it in my own traditional family Christmas and Thanksgiving feasts as I did when I grew up. What a great sense of home and family this simple traditions brings to the surface. Thank you for sharing.

CTW said...

I really like this post Liz. My mother's china holds great memories for me. I'm hoping my children will have memories from eating off pottery plates their mother made!

Kari Pike said...

Great post, Liz! My Grandmother made sure I had a nice set of stainless in my hope chest and my mom, never having a good set of china made it a priority for my wedding gift. I treasure it. My mother-in-law passed on her mother's silverware to us and it is so fun to set the table with all those memories...I don't do it often enough with hubby gone so much...I think I'll start again so my kids know how special they are!