Great Grandmother’s Dishes

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My mother’s Easter table was set with blue and cream china on a cream-colored cloth. Her centerpiece on a pedestal plate was a cream-colored layer cake sprinkled with pastel confetti. I can’t remember a thing we ate for dinner, but I can still picture the magic of that beautiful table.

“It’s just a box cake,” she explained, “but the dishes were Grandmother’s,” meaning her mother’s mother, Laura Goff. “I helped her pick them out the summer she moved to her own home in Omaha.”

Yes, I recognized the china. Grandma Leora, Mom’s mother, set her table with these old-fashioned dishes for family dinners as long as I could remember.

But I’d never heard Mom’s story before.

After Laura Goff had become widowed in 1930, although two sons still lived with her in Dexter, Iowa, with her, one with his two children. He’d lost his wife to mumps four days after her second baby was born. The brothers had bought a gravel truck but as the Depression deepened, they couldn’t keep up with the payments. They’d used the house for collateral.

Another of Laura’s sons owned a furnace company in Omaha. He invited his brothers to work for him, and they found a furnished house across from Hanscom Park large enough for all of them. This was in 1935.

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Where Laura Goff lived in Omaha, across from Hanscom Park, 2016.

The summer of 1939, my mother Doris spent two weeks in Omaha with Grandmother, who was in the process of moving to a home of her own on Mary Street. She needed to buy curtains and dishes and other furnishings.

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Laura Goff and Doris Wilson, Omaha

Grandmother and Doris rode the bus downtown to the big Brandeis department store. They shopped in the bargain basement. Doris had never been to such a lovely store before, and the best part was looking at all the different patterns of china.

Grandmother asked her which pattern she liked best. The blue one. That’s the one she liked, too. After Grandmother paid for them, they headed for the soda fountain for a treat. Grandmother always liked a strawberry “sodie,” as she called them, even into her older years.

After Grandma Leora was widowed after World War II, she and her mother moved together to a new house at 505 N. 4th Street in Guthrie Center, Iowa. Their roots were in Guthrie County, in fact Grandmother had been born there in a log cabin three years after the end of the Civil War. They already knew people who still lived there.

Grandmother Goff brought those blue rimmed dishes with her from Omaha.

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Laura Goff, about 1948, taken by her grandson, Merrill Goff, Omaha

When I was just a child I’d sometimes spend a week with the grandmas. Both Grandma Leora and Great Grandmother Goff taught me to crochet and to play the card game Canasta. We’d sometimes go downtown for a “sodie.”

And at every family dinner, they used the lovely old-fashioned china, although I didn’t appreciate it at the time.

Mom mentioned that one of the salad plates had a small chip in it. “You wouldn’t want it, would you?”

“I sure would.”

After I had an old-fashioned cupboard made, Mom brought the whole set of china to me. Big lump in throat.

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What a joy it is to use these dishes for a family dinner, reminding me of my motherline–and we always tell the story of Mom shopping in Omaha’s Brandeis bargain basement for them with her own grandmother.

The only thing better than an heirloom is an heirloom with a story behind it.

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