I had a passion for heirloom china. My daughter felt differently.
Editor’s note: In 2001, Sally Fingerett of Four Bitchin’ Babes wrote this funny personal essay about a Thanksgiving gone awry. She’s also the author a 2015 book, “The Mental Yentl,” that tells the stories behind some of her most popular songs.
I come from a long line of medicated women. So, after years of depression and taking to our beds, the women in my clan understand the importance of a high thread count. Which may explain my attraction to high-quality linens. And my ancestors, also burdened by anger and frustration, were familiar with the act of throwing (and smashing) plates. Which may explain my attraction to ironstone dishware.
But what I covet most is china. I have inherited a warehouseful. I possess them not so much because I'm adorable and wonderful, but because I'm a pest. Take, for instance, my Aunt Lillian's cherry dishes. Even with two cups cracked, there was service for an unrealistic 18. (Eighteen at a dinner party?) I'd go on and on, year after year, reminding Aunt Lil that she had sons who'd marry women who'd bring their own mothers' china to the table. And so arrived the day when she got tired of the cherry print and the very thought of hosting 18 people for dinner. Her dishes became mine.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
When my parents decided to retire to Florida, my mother made a wise choice by leaving her china in the Midwest with me. This was after I had negotiated with my sister. I agreed to forfeit any claim to all size 5 rings in exchange for sole rights to the good dishes. My mother loved that I loved her taste. “Sure you can have them," she said. “I might as well enjoy seeing you enjoy them. And God knows I don't need to schlep them down here and then feel guilty that I don't use them.” While I gave up some decent diamond rings, I did get a handpainted service for 12 that is now 58 years old. The casserole pieces are delicate and lovely and... all mine.
Of course, I have my own china. On my 10th wedding anniversary, I took myself out for some retail therapy to Lazarus where I purchased an elegant plain white set, service for a realistic party of 10. I thought that it might be nice to start my own legacy, something to hand down to my daughter. My husband was mortified to discover that I had this compulsion to purchase yet another collection of fancy dishes he would have to be careful around. “What on earth does a woman need with three sets of china?" he said. “And, by the way, when was the last time you cooked!" Ouch.
But soon enough it was my turn to host Thanksgiving. My folks loved to visit Columbus (well, to shop at Schottenstein's, really) and thought they'd bring along some Chicago family. I figured that since the menu is preordained and dictated by the holiday, I could handle the turkey. Fortunately, my parents were bringing the good cooks in the family for this interstate pilgrimage to Schotties, and so I asked them to “Bring your specialty!"
That Thursday morning unfolded as it should. The oven was fired up and full of bird. My kitchen was bustling and my little girl, EJ, was busy occupying herself upstairs with what 9-year-olds do. When my kitchen duties were done, I moved into the dining room to set the table. The linen tablecloth was laid out and the lace cloth was smoothed over that. The candlesticks were in place and the flowers were set directly in the center. Then, I ran aground. There was a crucial decision to make and I stopped short in terror of making the wrong choice.
Whose dishes would I use?
If I adorned the table with my mother's delicate pink-flowers-with-gold-trim set, Aunt Lil might understand, but Uncle Ralph would say, "Where are those expensive dishes your aunt tossed away after 45 years? I want to see them!" He was a boisterous guy who could turn thin air into a smoky cloud with one cigar and a heavy attitude. If I used Aunt Lil's hearty off-white dishes, with the lovely maroon cherries and the olive green leaves, my mother would be offended. That's no way to start a Thanksgiving and certainly no way to persuade her to give me more stuff. And I do love her stuff. Besides, she would spend the evening complaining that her legacy was just gathering dust in those padded zipper china covers, which, by the way, were "handmade and you should be careful with the zippers 'cause the lady who made them died and you can't find this quality anymore, so go slow?”
There I stood, with this annoying committee of voices rumbling in my head. To shut them up, I decided to go for broke. (I hate using that word when discussing china.) I would use all three sets. One place setting would be Aunt Lil's, one place setting would be my mother's and one would be mine—on and on around the table. So what if the table looked like hell. I double-checked the wine supply.
The guests arrived and, since these women are genetically linked, they headed straight for the dining room to view the table. Their remarks of stunned horror fell on deaf ears as I yelled up to EJ to come down and see her grandma and Great Aunty Lil.
As it turned out, my precious little girl had been busy in my room rummaging through my makeup and jewelry. She entered all made up and bejeweled as the cohost of this autumnal kickoff to the winter holiday season. Actually, I smelled her before I saw her. She was wafting a fragrance reminiscent of the inside of my grandmother's purse. Then I noticed her face and body. She was wearing her little jeans, my go-away-for-the-weekend black silk teddy, my pearls, a few gold bangles and my black high heels. Her face was distorted with hot-red lipstick applied over the lip line. The eyeliner above and below her lids had an Egyptian appeal, but the rouge said it all. My daughter, a working girl.
She stood at the table, with her little girl hands on her little girl hips, and said with just enough “bitchy" to slay me, “Do we have to eat off this fancy old stuff?”
The women in my family couldn't figure out what to stare at first, the table or the kid. My roles as devoted mother and dedicated daughter suddenly felt as if they were in question. But that's nothing new for any woman on a family holiday, right?
All in all, the turkey was fabulous, the evening festive, yet quirky. The peculiar table—which I was certain would be the talk of the family for years—was easily overshadowed by the 9-year-old in Estée Lauder base and powder. Her girlie girl dress-up was an early sign that my daughter would enter womanhood with her own passions. It appeared she'd be free of the genetic coding that caused obsessive worrying about silverware placement and perfecting the art of napkin folding.
I had not passed down these demons to her, and, for this, I'm eternally thankful.
This story originally appeared in the November 2001 issue of Columbus Monthly.
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