In 1978, when my daughter was three, I won the Clark Essay Prize at my university for the best work done in the English Department that year. It came with $100, an enormous sum for me at the time. My daughter had been begging me for a Big Wheel, and I was able to buy it for her with part of the prize money. Our driveway had a gentle slope and she rode the new bike tirelessly, careening down the driveway, making a sharp turn onto the sidewalk and skidding down the concrete. Then she hauled it back up and repeated the move endlessly until her hunger won out over her love of skidding.
My grandson turns ten tomorrow, and he wanted a major gift for his birthday, a big wheeled trike made by Razor, pictured above. On Saturday my husband, my grandson and my first husband–my daughter’s father in town for the birthday–worked together to assemble it. As I observed this activity I thought back over many years. I was touched by the camaraderie between the men, not a common outcome in such a situation. My grandson loves them both and takes for granted that they get along. Once again I am thankful that after our divorce my daughter’s father and I committed to parenting her with love and without any negativity toward each other. Here was the fruit, 41 years later, of that decision.
Now my grandson, wearing the mandatory helmet, is pedaling up and down the sidewalk in and out of our driveways. He accelerates, then skids merrily across the cement. Razor calls it a Drift Bike, but it really just a jazzed up Big Wheel. A child powered vehicle, designed to spin out, delighting another generation.
I mentioned that the lovely china I had purchased didn’t fare too well with children and daily use. As pieces broke, I supplemented my dishes with inexpensive additions as needed. I ended up with a patchwork collection. While nothing was wrong with this motley assortment, it did lack any sense of being “company ready” when necessary. I didn’t have any friends who would be bothered by this, but I did feel at times as if I were back in my post college days with my ragtag place settings.
A few years ago, I settled on the very simple, very sturdy French dinnerware pictured above. Its stark simplicity certainly contrasts with the Noritake china, but it perhaps better reflects this more centered, less showy time of my life. At any rate, we have accumulated enough dishes to serve my family and a guest or two.
Preparing to write about these dishes reminded me of the “blue plate special” of my childhood. The working man’s equivalent of the upscale “prix fixe,” the special had a set meat, starch and vegetable with the strict admonishment of “no substitutions.” This same idea was promoted in a book I read as a single mother wanting to marry again. It suggested that I could pick three characteristics I thought essential in a husband. (Violence, addiction and general boorishness were seen as non-negotiable and didn’t count as part of the three!) After identifying the three, I had to ignore any other characteristics and focus on the three–no substitutions. I chose intelligence, kindness and a sense of humor. That meant I couldn’t exclude a man with these three qualities who also happened to snore, have contentious family members or was a Republican. (Fortunately I didn’t know any Republicans at the time!)
This process worked, eliminating the kind of second guessing I had been prone to before. Did I like his car?(Not one of the three.) Was he deadly serious? (Instant elimination.) I have been happily married for 31 years to an intelligent, kind, humorous man. Who snores!
I had been envying the lovely photos of sunflowers, fields of sunflowers, arrays of sunflowers, and displays of sunflowers posted by my blogging friends. I had tried to vicariously delight in their sunflowers, all the time missing the sturdy row of my own I had planted and expected to enjoy. I thought malevolently of that happy fat woodchuck who had had the audacity to cut the flowers off mid-stem before they had bloomed. I resigned myself to continue to feed the goldfinches who flock to my yard remembering previous September’s sunflower seed feasts.
And then! What did I see this morning when I left the house for an appointment? This solitary sunflower, small but blooming, defying all the odds. Waving insistently at me, it seemed to say “you give up so easily. Did you really think the woodchuck could prevent every single plant from growing?” Well yes, I did. But I was wrong- a sentence I seem to say as rarely as possible. That one little sunflower seed waited until the coast was clear, ignored all instruction that its time to grow had passed, and pushed its way into stem and flower.
I think of John Milton’s verse, “they also serve who only stand and wait.” Here it seemed to be wait and stand, but it prevailed in the end.
When I had my first apartment I had no furniture, so I went to Cohn Brothers to buy a couch. This store gave credit to anyone who could make monthly payments, and I needed to establish a credit history. I picked out a lovely blue/green Swedish looking long couch, put down my first $25 and promised to return each month with any additional $25 until the $250 was paid in full. Once I had the habit of paying $25 a month for home furnishings, I continued this approach for many years. In those days, interest on installments was either nonexistent(as at Cohn Brothers) or very low.
Somewhere in the mid-1980’s I suddenly wanted to own real china. I chose the pattern above, Nanking by Noritke, and began buying it one piece at a time until I had acquired several settings. However, since I had a young child and the young child had many young friends, this was not a particularly wise move. I did love the pattern, and a few pieces of it still remain. My favorite platter, rarely used when I was younger, now comes out every Thanksgiving.
Looking at the plate now, I remember how much I longed for the kind of stability that owning china represented to me. I was a single mother, no longer waiting for another bridal registry to provide me with what I wanted. I decided to buy my own dishes, this time acknowledging a love for the traditional which had eluded me years before. One lovely piece at a time.
Lately the weddings I have been aware of seem to have become extravaganzas, lasting at least two days, often in a vacation destination, with expensive bridal gowns, lavish food and long bridal registries of desired gifts. In 1973 when I married the trend was the opposite. We had the simplest possible ceremonies, frequently outdoors, with flowery dresses, potluck food and much dancing and merriment on site after the vows. One thing was still in operation–the bridal registry.
Traditionally (and apparently still judging from the website The Knot) a woman (now both parties) went to a department store and chose a china, crystal and silver pattern she desired as gifts. In 1973, china, crystal and silver were considered bourgeois, but I still needed to pick a pattern to satisfy the older generation. I chose, still by Lenox of the fancy china lists, a stoneware pictured above. This was very unconventional, a real statement that we were not following in the materialistic footsteps of our parents, but were practical and thrifty. The nature theme of the pattern also reflected the “back to nature” spirit of the time.
Very few pieces from that time remain, a couple of cups just the right size for a scoop of ice cream are in my cupboard. I smile when I see them, remembering who I was then and what I thought I would treasure in the future. But tastes change, as did mine, and more choices will be featured in the next posts.
A couple of Thanksgivings ago I had cooked a Tofurkey in this pot for the vegetarians among us. (Yes. That is a real thing, despite the strange looks I get when trying to find one in the supermarket.) I found a relative studying the vessel and then cornering me to find out, not about the Tofurkey(he was deep fat frying a turkey at the time), but about the Dutch oven.
He had a restaurant and loved seeing old kitchen items, but he said he had never seen a Dutch oven like mine. It was another inherited piece from my grandmother and I used it all the time without thinking much about it. Manufactured by Griswold, this Erie, Pennsylvania cast iron pan turns out to be of monetary value in the world of cast iron collecting. (Who knew that there was even a world of cast iron collecting?) While I have no intention of selling mine since it is in constant use, I was intrigued that he was right to inquire about it.
The lid of the Dutch oven also fits on the cast iron skillet I wrote about a couple of days ago. This comes in handy when I want to braise some meat with less sauce than I might use in the Dutch oven. The larger pan holds chili, stew, soup and a variety of sauces. It was a slow cooker before someone decided to market an electric slow cooker. I do have to remove leftovers to store them, since tomato based food will take on an unpleasant(albeit healthy) metallic taste if left in too long.
As to why it is called Dutch. I have no idea.
Last night we attended a lecture at the Connecticut Historical Society with Eric Foner, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University and expert on Reconstruction after the American Civil War. After listening to inane ideas from the so-called leader of my nation, and after being bombarded with equally poorly thought through ideas of his critics, it was restorative to listen to Foner.
He spoke for what he called a therapist’s and professor’s hour, namely 50 minutes. I could have easily listened to him for another two hours, so engaging and enlightening was his presentation. His newest book, which we purchased ahead of its next week’s release, focuses on the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Trump recently questioned the rights of anyone born here being granted citizenship and suggested he would change this provision. He apparently remains ignorant of the constitutional guarantee in the 14th Amendment providing birthright citizenship to anyone born here, regardless of the status of the parents. The facts reassured me that it would take much more than bluster to deny a baby citizenship.
Foner also discussed the widely held inaccurate view, first promulgated in the early 20th century and continued until the civil rights movement here in the 1960’s that Reconstruction had been a failure because black politicians were incapable of governing. The racist view also said the all northern efforts in the south were opportunistic. I had been taught such history in the early 1960’s. Only my recent reading has shown me that Reconstruction failed because of a massive backlash, backed by extensive violence and Jim Crow laws, that prevented black citizens from gaining the rights guaranteed them in the 14th Amendment.
As the same old backlash rears its ugly head here again with the idea that rights for one take rights away from another, it was heartening to remember the ideal of my nation. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Any person!