At Home With Vivian: The good dishes

As I walked through the dining room near my china cabinet today, sun beams settled on a rather thick layer of dust gathering on the good china. Having nothing more fun to do, I started dusting.

The plates, Noritake Temptation, are white with a platinum ring around the edges. There is a delicate white and pink flower design with green leaves circling the plates. I love them, one, because they are the first grown-up thing I’ve ever owned, and two, because my Aunt Marion helped me pick them out.

My mother passed away a few months before Jeff and I were to be married. My family all pitched in to help with the wedding, especially my sister Karen who handled all of the arrangements, and my Aunt Marion who made my wedding dress and hosted a bridal shower. I expected a small family wedding. My sister invited 100 people and they all came!

A few weeks before the bridal shower, Aunt Marion took me aside and said “People want to know what you need for gifts.” I hadn’t thought about gifts. When my mother passed away, my older sisters were already established in their own homes and my kid sister was moving into a small college dorm room. Jeff and I inherited my mother’s household – pots, pans, Corelle plates, towels, sheets, silverware, furniture, and lamps. I even had a set of fancy glassware that my mother had purchased for Karen’s wedding reception many years before. I didn’t think I needed anything.

“You are marrying an Air Force Officer. You will need a good set of china” Aunt Marion informed me. She had already thought it through.

My mother had a set of ‘good china’ when I was younger. We used it for holidays and special occasions. By the time I was in college, her Franciscan Ivy dishes was mostly gone. She had purchased a set of Corelle Spring Blossom Green (which I still use!). I had forgotten about the “good dishes” until my older sister Brenda reminded me.

Aunt Marion and I went to McFaul’s Gifts in Pittsburg that very same day. With Aunt Marion’s loving and experienced help, I picked out my beautiful china. I hadn’t even heard of a bridal registry until that day.

I had never owned anything so expensive or so beautiful in my life. I was so proud of those dishes! I was almost afraid to use them. Jeff was only a 2nd lieutenant when we were first married, so we used the dishes the first year just for holidays. Over the ensuing years in the military I hosted squadron wives’ meetings, fund raisers, and many dinners. I was always complimented on the china. Mentally, I thanked Aunt Marion.

We traveled around the world with the Air Force. Every new duty station was an adventure. Going to Germany we were told to only bring essentials like kitchen items, sheets, clothes, kids’ toys and a television. The military would provide everything else for our use when we arrived. This sounded just fine to us because that’s how it worked when we moved to Japan. But when we arrived in Germany, we discovered that we had been misinformed. We lived for months with cardboard boxes for dressers until the furniture we had stored in the states was shipped. After that experience, we double checked packing restrictions. When we were assigned to Osan, Korea, we brought everything we owned, including the good china.

We lived on the fourth floor of a four-story apartment building on Osan Air Base and were surrounded by other military families. It was a wonderful close-knit Air Force community that included a few Army families.

An Army colonel and his wife moved in directly across the hall from us. They were from South Carolina and their only son was attending the Citadel. Mrs. Phillips was the only ‘southern belle’ I ever met. She had a sweet drawl, the kind often referred to as ‘dripping like honey’. She even called everyone Honey. She had a good soul and became a good friend, but I have to tell you, Southern Army people don’t think like California Air Force people.

This was Mrs. Phillips’ first time overseas. (My kids called her Mrs. Phillips so I did too.) Her husband was a unit commander and because of his job, she had several social obligations expected of her. (Things are very different for military wives now!) Unfortunately, they experienced the same misinformation we experienced in Germany. From the first day they moved in she appeared almost daily on my doorstep needing to borrow something.

The borrowing started out simple. “Honey, do you have colored felt pens I can borrow?” “Honey, do you mind if I just borrow your toaster for the day?” “Honey, if you’re not using that lovely little ole flower vase…” As her military duties increased so did her borrowing. She eye-balled my crystal platters and serving dishes one day. I found them full of flower arrangements at the Officers’ Wives’ Club luncheon the next week.

One morning she came over and announced “Honey, if you don’t mind, I’ll need to use your mix master and your oven for a luncheon I’m having tomorrow.” My oven? She explained that she didn’t want ‘those ole cooking smells’ in her own apartment when the guests arrived, so she’d just cook in my apartment. Hmmm… “Oh, and by the way Honey, may I please borrow your lovely china?” I saw that coming. As my mother would say, In for a penny in for a pound!

She arrived early in the morning, after my children had gone off to school. She unloaded groceries into my fridge and made herself at home in my kitchen. I became her assistant. Peel this, chop that. Into the oven went the main course and off she went to her apartment with my china and crystal. She came back for the cork screw.

As I sat on my living room couch, I heard her guests arriving down the apartment hallway. Mrs. Phillips popped in and grabbed the appetizers. She flew back in later with the dirty dishes and ran back out with the main course.

Dirty dishes? Did she expect me to wash my own dishes? I was pondering this in the kitchen when she bustled in with the dirty dinner plates and grabbed the dessert. She stopped and smiled at me. “No, silly girl,” she cooed, “I’m coming back to wash those” and off she ran.

True to her word, she was back later to clean up her mess. I was again her assistant. As we wiped and dried, she told me all about her party.

Eventually, she filled her apartment with all the things she needed. She bought a set of china even though she had another set sitting in storage in South Carolina. I found that I missed having her over every day to borrow something. Especially the china. I was proud that she wanted to use it.

California prides itself on being casual and informal. When we entertain now, we often use paper plates and serve in wicker baskets on bamboo trays and eat in the backyard. Except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, of course. Then only the good china will do. When we sit down to eat, our plates are full of delicious food and forty years of memories. Thank you, Aunt Marion.

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