A version of this story can be found in my book, Exploding Hushpuppies— More Stories from Home.
My brother and I were settled deep into the orange shag carpet watching The Brady Bunch, when we heard an enormous crash. My mother, who had fortunately stepped into the garage for a moment, thought an airplane had landed on the roof.
We rushed into the kitchen and found the long row of cabinets mounted above the sink had ripped lose from the wall and tipped forward where they were stopped and held in mid-fall by the wall-mounted telephone.
The doors dangled open and every single dish and glass we owned had been launched across the room where the floor was covered with shards of china and glass about two inches deep.
Mother was in shock and sick that all her beautiful Haviland wedding china had been lost. Living on my Dad’s minister’s salary, we didn’t have a real china cabinet for the fine china, so it had all been stored with the everyday dishes in the kitchen cabinets. Every single piece of the old, new, elegant crystal and cheap glasses that featured the Hamburglar had been smashed onto the tile floor.
For years, my mother was too practical to replace her dishes with anything fancy. She picked out a pretty everyday pattern we used for all occasions and supplemented the holiday season with the Nikko Christmas pattern. (no matter how down-to-earth you are, Southern ladies have to have a Christmas pattern).
Maybe “the big crash”, is why I now love pretty dishes and use them every time we eat. Paper plates only appear as a palette for mixing paint or draining fried foods. I’ve even been known to take the good stuff on picnics.
I have the fine china given to me as wedding gifts, the Lenox Christmas Holiday pattern, a vintage Liberty Blue set I’ve collected piece by piece from antique and thrift stores and even a bright yellow set I earned from shopping at Delchamps. Of course, there’s the smattering of Blue Willow (which is what Aunt Bee used in Mayberry). I also have my husband’s grandmother’s set with little pink rosebuds I use at Easter. Anytime there’s food served in my house, it’s always placed atop a real plate.
Some think it’s a chore to use their good dishes, but really, you just swish them off in the sink, and you’re good to go. My china isn’t super expensive, but all of it has special memories.
Each day you don’t have your wedding gifts pulverized on the kitchen floor is reason to celebrate. Every day you live to eat another meal, even if it’s only buttered toast, is a reason to go to the effort to use a pretty plate.
A seashell on the bookshelf, a wildflower in a Co-cola bottle next to the bed, our children’s artwork displayed in a frame or using a pretty plate for our food –all shows appreciation for the gifts of simple beauty.
We shouldn’t have to wait until Christmas to pull out the good china. If a plate occasionally crashes to the floor, we should learn to shout, “Whoopee!” because it’s the sound of a life being enjoyed and well lived. But of course, if it’s the sound of your entire cabinet crashing, it’s okay to just sit and cry. But then, there are new collections to discover.