What the Dishes Have to Say

I’m the only person I know who can get lumps in her instant potatoes. This is no boast. It's just a plain fact that I’m no domestic goddess. So it's somewhat odd that I have enough dinner and salad plates in my cupboard to seat 11 people.

Eleven is not your standard number of place settings, but these aren't your standard-issue place settings. They're old. They are the passed-down remains of my great-grandmother’s everyday tableware that she had bought at Macy’s in New York City back in the day when going there was a big deal that required dressing up.

She had so many dishes, that all these years and oh so many dishwashers later in addition to the 11 dinner plates, there are 14 salad plates, eight little bowls I don’t know what you do with, seven bread plates, and exactly one soup bowl. (The soup bowl was my cereal bowl when I would visit my Grandmother. She would let me use one of her mother’s sterling spoons, too. I was the queen of the world with my bowl of granola.)

Thumbing through a typed copy of the diary my great-grandfather kept from 1972 to 1974, I had an insight into why there were so many dishes. My great-grandfather was a recent widower and still living in the home his wife had designed and he had built in 1914 on Park Lane in Darien. My grandparents lived there, too. At the time, Gram still worked, but that was okay because our family, still big at the time, came round and round and round again.

This little book reports the weather and the comings and goings of the family. When it snowed, who brought oyster stew, who cut his hair, who spent the day, who was on vacation, when the crocuses or the trailing arbutus bloomed, when the oilman came, when the fence went in the front yard, and when the water meter was read are the minutia that made it into this little book.

Over a three-day stretch of entries, list of visitors reads like a Christmas card list: “Ann, Sandy & kids, Larry, Gary, Annie, Janet & Terry, Audrey, Sue, Annie & girls, Larry & Carlsons, Audrey, the Gilles, Bud & Ruth, Lannie, Wanda, Garry, Mary & girls, Annie....”

He noted, too, when he ordered his own gravestone.

Once upon a time, lots of people lived real close and came by an awful lot to see a nice old grandpa who built a home and stayed there in love. Good came of it. So says this pile of dishes, the bottom one of which I will probably never get to. So says a little diary that was as much about remembering when as being remembered.