Grandma’s old dishes


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 after I graduated.”

Yes, I recognized the china. Grandma Wilson, 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.

The future was bleak after high school in 1936 for 17-year-old Doris. Her teachers in Dexter, Iowa, had urged her to go to college, at least a business school, but where would she get the money? Where would she live in such a big city as Des Moines.

Her older brothers in the Navy were no longer hungry, and they sent a little money home every month, with orders to fill up the kids at home–four younger than Doris–with meat and milk. The family was embarrassed to accept government handouts and hand-me-down clothes.

After Laura Goff had become widowed in 1930, her grandchildren took turns staying in the house with her. Doris had felt pampered by Grandmother’s pale pancakes, made with white flour, and white sugar syrup. Her own mother always made pancakes from graham flour and syrup from brown sugar.

One of Laura’s sons lost his wife to mumps four days after her second baby was born. He and the children moved in with Laura, but as the Depression deepened, he couldn’t keep up with the house payments. They all moved to Omaha to live in a large furnished home (even the dishes), across from Hanscom Park Hanscom Park, with another of Laura’s sons who owned a furnace company there.

The first time Doris had ever been out of the state of Iowa, she got to spend two weeks in Omaha with Grandmother the summer of 1936. She had just finished high school. Grandmother 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.

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 party was looking at all the different patterns of china.

Grandmother asked her which pattern she liked best. The blue one. Grandmother said that’s the one she liked, too. After she 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.

Doris did get to go to AIB business college in Des Moines for a few months, working at Bishops Cafeteria for her meals, playing basketball for tuition. But she had to drop out when her Navy brothers couldn’t cover her $10 a month rent.

After Grandma Wilson 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. They’d both lived in and around Guthrie Center for several years, and already knew people there. Grandmother Goff brought those blue rimmed dishes with her from Omaha.

I was just a child then and would sometimes spend a week with the grandmas. Both Grandma Wilson 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?”

Well, the only thing better than an heirloom is an heirloom with a story behind it. “I sure would.”

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

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 the bargain basement for them with her own grandmother.



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