When I was a little girl, I didn’t appreciate my mother’s china – or her crystal, or the drop-leaf mahogany table where I inevitably got stuck with a leg in front of me at dinner parties.
But now, I wish I could tell her that those two or three times a year when we have 12 or more people in to eat, we use that 1930s china she bought when she was a single lady. She probably ordered it from Sears, although it could have been Davison’s or Rich’s department stores in Atlanta.
At any rate, she kept the 12 place settings, complete with gravy boat and covered casserole dishes, in her Lane cedar chest when she rented a room in a boarding house in Tifton, Ga., before Mary Louelle Cobb met my daddy, a Yankee named John Bachner Gross.
Mother was all of 27 years old when they married, and she had decided she should go ahead and buy her own china because she probably wouldn’t ever get married. Their marriage lasted just shy of 50 years.
That first china is pale cream-yellow with a narrow aqua border and small clusters of flowers. I haven’t been able to find out its name. On the back, it only says “Made in Japan,” with a four-diamond symbol. The glaze is not smooth and it’s worn in places.
The plates are not what I always heard called “good china” – you know, the thin plates and cups and saucers kept in the china cabinet, which the children were always threatened to “be careful so you don’t break it” when you washed dishes by hand.
Most of us remember our mothers’ or grandmothers’ “good china.” “It was kept up in a hutch. We weren’t allowed to touch it,” said Rhonda Bland of the china her mother used to have. “It was brought out at Christmas and other special times,” she remembered.
For everyday, our family ate on Franciscan Ware apple pattern plates. We still have about three place settings and a couple of cups and saucers. I’m saving them for Haley, our youngest daughter, when she has room to keep them, she says.
Bill and I eat on our everyday deep blue Fiesta Ware plates we bought at The Pottery at Williamsburg for our 25th anniversary. Like Franciscan Ware, the plates are heavy pottery and resist breaking. We’ve only broken one.
Our “good china,” in turn, is the same Royal Doulton “Clarendon” pattern chosen by Princess Diana, as I recall. The china lives in the china cabinet and comes out for parties and at Thanksgiving.
All of it was wedding presents when we got married 41 years ago next month. That was back when people gave china and crystal and even silver for presents. Our silver was stolen long ago, during a break-in while we lived in Amherst County and when the price of silver went sky high. Sometimes I miss “Joan of Arc,” but our girls have a choice of their grandmothers’ sterling silver.
Each of the patterns of china, crystal and silver carries memories with it. I wish I could tell my mother that we still use china, her china. In the last years before she died at age 93, when her mind was on vacation, as we used to say, I would tell her that the china she was eating on used to be hers.
She would smile vacantly and say, “It’s pretty. I don’t remember it.”