My mother's dishes: NOT a love story

So this Thanksgiving, as we do every year, my sister and I each pulled out our vintage and oh-so-collectible "Jewel Tea" dishes. Her meal was served in Roanoke, while I filled the gravy boat up here in the southern part of northern Virginia -- but we both used these Depression era dishes, because, I mean really. Look at them. They're perfect for Thanksgiving. That and because our mother would haunt us if we didn't.

See, Carolyn and I have what you might call a love-hate relationship with these dishes (their official name is "Hall China Autumn Leaf," but they were always called "Jewel Tea" in our family, because in the 1930s they were given to housewives -- like my grandmother -- as premiums when the ladies bought tea and spices from the door-to-door reps from the Jewel Tea Company). We do love them, because they were our mother's. And while their beauty and aesthetic loveliness frankly kind of escape us, we both realize that Mom cherished them. How do we know this? We know this because by the time she died she had:
  • redecorated her kitchen to feature them, to include commissioning a friend to create a matching stencil pattern;
  • purchased a shockingly expensive, custom-made-to-match-her-dishes, Tiffany-style lamp to hang over the breakfast table;
  • hung the dessert plates interspersed with orange and yellow baskets around the kitchen on the wall space above the cabinets (cunningly connected by the stencil pattern);
  • joined the "Hall China 'Autumn Leaf' Collectors' Club" (that's where she found the guy who made the lamp);
  • owned a linen tablecloth and twelve napkins that had been stenciled by the same friend (see above), so that when she entertained her table was all Jewel Tea, all the time;
  • spent way more money than my dad ever knew, tracking down and purchasing the rarer pieces of the pattern: a "one-armed bean pot;" the coveted "2 lb. butter dish" (I mean, it's a butter dish that will hold eight sticks of butter, people); not only the formal and everyday salt and pepper shakers, but the "cook's salt and pepper shakers" as well;
  • amassed enough place settings of these fricking dishes that my sister and I each have a complete set. And by complete, I mean we each own twelve place settings. Twelve, y'all. Plus serving bowls, platters, pie plates, iced tea glasses, coffee mugs, tea pots . . . . Plus some other shit I can't even remember.
But see, we really don't think they're as lovely as she did. We both have white dishes for every day, and we both chose fancy china patterns when we got married because our mother made us. She made us choose a silver pattern, too -- and we both very cleverly chose her silver pattern. So one thing I love, love, love is that I have my silver and my mother's, mingling all together. The other pattern in this picture is my grandmother's, which I adore but which is no longer made. I always, always use the two patterns together.

Last year about this time, my sister and I were reminiscing about our mom and we got to laughing our asses off, yet again, about all that "damned Jewel Tea" (that's how we have always talked about it). I regret to inform you that we were not kind about these dishes. Well, fifteen minutes later, my sister texted me; here is our "conversation:

HER: Right after I hung up a damned Jewel Tea bowl fell and broke. I'm freaking out.
ME: Mom must be pissed.
HER: Now I'm crying.
ME: And I'm laughing. Don't cry! They're ugly. The world is a better place.
HER: OK, now I'm laughing.

We have considered selling the damned things on eBay, or Craigslist; I really do think that the entire collection could pay for at least a year of someone's college expenses. But we never get around to it. So most of it lives in multiple, multiple boxes in my attic. And a few pieces live in our kitchens, so we can use them at Thanksgiving.

Because they're perfect.


And hey! Today begins our second annual Book Lovers' Advent Calendar! This year I am sampling books that have been recommended to me by friends who said last year, "How could you possibly leave out our family's favorite??" I am discovering a whole new collection of storybooks to love!

As we open the first door of the Advent calendar, we find The Snowman, which is a lovely little book with no words (I love those!). My family is actually familiar with this story as an animated film, but -- as is always the case -- the book is better. Thanks, Kathy!