Use the good china

October 27, 2018


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.

My overloaded yet very safe china cabinet. — okay, my boys once shattered it, but that's another story HERE.

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.

  • Ruth Kraft says:

    I could not agree more! Last year, we came home from a cruise only to discover that our laundry room cabinets had all fallen off the wall during an awful storm with high winds. My Ginori entertaining set (between the luncheon and dinner plates, I could serve brunch for 24) was destroyed and irreplaceable. Some of my late mother’s Mikasa pattern were destroyed as well but thank goodness for Replacement China. I have magnificent Christian Dior dishes with 24 carat gold rims (translation-must wash by hand), classic Lenox, a dairy set for 12, everyday dishes for 12, and two more Dior sets. Those were purchased for my sons but, guess what, they like plain white dishes from Kate Spade!! I never, ever use paper or plastic. Neither did my parents. Their one concession to progress was paper napkins. I use my silver all the time-the Waterford, less. It makes me feel good to use my lovely things. My friends refer to my house as the museum and tease me all the time, but I love setting a nice table. After the loss of the Ginori, I bought a melamine set for 24 from The Enchanted Home-including blue and white chargers. So, now I can serve extended brunches in style. Highly recommend. I have bamboo silverware for 24 to match which I also use for BBQs.

    • It all sounds so lovely but what I like most is that you use it to entertain people you love. It isn’t for show, it’s for comfort and memories. Good for you, and what a horrible tale of the collapsed cabinets. It will make a wonderful story to tell over brunch or dinner with your new china! Thanks for the note. I’m glad there are still people who appreciate beautifully crafted things.

    • Preach it, Jenna. Thanks. Your recipes always look so beautiful on nice plates. You must have about 32 different sets!

  • I love your story and I am so sorry about your mom’s china when the cabinet fell. My sister and I are always horrified when we go to someone’s house and they use paper plates and of all things, plastic cups! And don’t get me started on the plastic silverware! When company comes they always deserve the best. And I/we use the good stuff for 99% of our meals. The cabin is even fully set with good plates and plenty of silverware. We’re the fanciest people on the beach. It may look silly to some, but we are making our mother proud.


    • Oh how lovely! It really doesn’t take much effort and is always so special! I had a friend who was horrified I didn’t have plastic cups for her grown sons to drink out of. She feared they didn’t know how to hold a real glass. Heavens to Betsy!

  • I use my Portmeirion Botanic Garden dishes for everyday. I have 16 place settings. One day, I don’t remember what I was doing, but somehow as I was putting away several salad plates in a cupboard above my head, everything went crazy and suddenly a whole slew of them were sliding down my arm, crashing on the floor. I was in shock at the time, but recovered quickly and just bought a bunch more to restock. I agree, you should use your nice things every day and if they break, they break and you replace them. I never, ever use a paper plate. I have three different patterns of Christmas dishes. Two different sets for everyday that I bought at Target, and for good, the Holidays pattern from Tiffany & Co., which I started buying at the San Francisco Tiffany’s in 1995 when I visited the city for a conference, before there was ever such a thing as buying online. I have bought the 12 place settings I have, piece by piece over the years. I also have 32 Spode Christmas Tree Candy Cane Striped canape plates for holiday cocktail parties, which I collected four plates at a time every Christmas. This year, I bought 12 dinner plates of the Spode Woodland pheasant pattern for Thanksgiving and each year I will add more. Even though I am almost 61, I believe in adding china. I want to get the Tory Burch copy of Dodie Thayer’s lettuceware pattern for my Easter dishes. I can understand when you talk about your future daughters-in-law loving you, as I always am thinking about my own two daughters and granddaughters with every plate I buy. I feel like I will be handing down love.

    • Your children are blessed that you think of them like this. Even if they don’t appreciate it at first, they’ll grow to love it and every time they use it will think of you. I am so impressed with your collection. You are wise for collecting little by little. The Portmeirion Botanic is a favorite. A friend of mine has that pattern and I love it.

  • I agree, although typically I only use my Dansk blue & white which was a wedding gift. The good stuff comes out for guests and holidays. But a real dish is always used when we eat. My parents were Depression Era and my mother’s china was collected by going to the movies every week. We only used that china on holidays. She also had a decent set of everyday dishes but she only used those for Sunday dinner. About 3 years before my father died he was going through a rough patch and my mother could not handle it alone so all the children took turns staying at the house. During one of my turns, I finally convinced her to use her good everyday dishes all the time. They had worked hard and deserved to eat with decent dishes.

    • What a beautiful story. I’m glad you reminded you mom of how special she is. I’d love to see the dishes she got from going to the movies! My Liberty Blue set was originally given out by a bank in the 1970’s.

  • Oh, how I needed to read this! I love dishes, I have lots of dishes, including just abut every piece of Pfaltzgraff Christmas Heritage ever made, but I way too often use paper plates. While none of my dish sets have much sentimental value, I should treat myself to using them regularly,even if it’s just for a snack or re heated leftovers.

    The first holidays without a cherished loved one are hard, and our family found the second go round of holidays hard too, perhaps because we weren’t quite as numb. However they do get easier. Last year, the wooden box containing my husband’s ashes showed up on Christmas Eve wrapped in blinking red and green lights…And I feel certain my late husband got as good a laugh from it up in Heaven as his girls and I did here in my living room.

    May this holiday season be full of sweet memories for y’all, Leslie Anne.

    • thank you so much Leigh. Memories are so precious and making new memories are always soothing. We have new daughters in law to look forward to (someday, no time soon) and grandchildren (same there) and new friends to focus on. Using your dishes will create new memories for you, and be sure and take a picture of the table every year to remember everyone there. I wish we had done that more often.

  • Maria Rosso says:

    Loved your story. My brother climbed up on the kitchen counter one day to reach the cookies in the top cabinet. When he grabbed the door to pull himself up, the entire thing came crashing down – with all of our dishes. He wasn’t hurt. I guess those cabinets weren’t meant to hold such a heavy load, nor a little boy.

    In the early 70’s when my brother was overseas in the service, he brought back a set of Noritake China to replace what he had broken. Mom still has it.

    Thank you for sharing your stories and letting us share ours.

    • Wow! I’m amazed he wasn’t hurt! what a story, and I love that he replaced the dishes when he was older. What a good guy!

  • Spread the word, Leslie Anne! And you pulled this off even with raising boys so I’m proud of you. I don’t know how much of my different sets of Spode will be shared among our kids someday when I’ve gone to the Banquet Above but I’ve asked for some to be put back for my little granddaughters.

    I would have bawled if I were your mom, I suspect. I know they’re just things but they symbolize much more, the principles you’ve written about here. I’m not sure I’m a mature enough woman to shout Whoopee if I or someone else drops a Spode plate but if it’s someone else’s fault I’ll hold my tears until they’ve gone home.

    Your china cabinet with the curved glass sides is gorgeous!

    • Oh Dewena, how right you are about the boys. They were so used to using real dishes, I sometimes found a few of my Liberty blue plates out in the tree house where they’d taken a snack and not thought to use paper plates! at least they’ll have high standards now when they are married someday. Yet another reason for my daughters in law to love me!!! The cabinet belonged to my grandmother. I need to write a story about the day the boys broke the glass out of it. YIKES!

  • Leslie Ann, I also can feel your mother’s pain. My sweet Mothr never used a paper plate or napkin, she used tablecloths nicely ironed for everyday and for her legendary Sunday lunches. Why not enjoy the good china for a piece of morning toast? Life is too short not to treat our family and ourselves to the best we have.

    • Thanks Pam. I thought of your beautiful tablescapes when I wrote this. You definitely know how to celebrate the every day living!

  • I can just feel your mother’s pain. I love my dishes and so did my mom. I couldn’t agree more about eating on them. I have so many memories associated with holidays and the dishes we used for that holiday. I think my kids would be devastated if we didn’t pull out the pinecone pattern for Christmas. I have succumbed to paper products for the last two Thanksgivings as we have been at the farm. It was just to hard for the amount of family and wanting to get outside myself and enjoy all the festivities. This will be our last one there, so next year everyone just better get ready for real dishes again. We always know there is no opening family presents on Christmas Eve until the dishes are washed.
    Hope you and you family are doing well. Every first holiday is so hard.

    • Thank you Sandy. We have Thanksgiving with my bachelor brother, but I’ve made sure he has plenty of Fiestaware (very suitable for a man) so he doesn’t get away with paper plates. It will be a rough holiday time for sure, but we’ll manage. As for your farm, it always sounds so fun. I know you’ll have a great time there this year. I can picture it like Martha Stewart herself arranged the hay bales!

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