Meet our writers

Win $1,000

Reflections December 2015

Musings of an Undefeated Matriarch

A Month of Christmas Dishes

By Sharon Kennedy

At some point in my childhood, I decided I would never set a table with mismatched dishes, and I silently declared war on ugly white cups from the dime store. I was determined to set a table as stylish and memorable as my aunt's.

Every December I get out my collection of Christmas dishes. Over the years I've purchased miscellaneous sets from various places because dishes are my weakness. I can bypass racks of clothing and stylish winter boots without giving them a second glance. Fancy jewelry, exotic perfumes, leather purses, and all electronic gadgets are equally ignored, but put dishes before me and my knees turn to rubber.

My love of dishes began when I was young. Every summer Aunt Marie and her husband drove from their home in Detroit to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. They always brought gifts and boxes filled with odds and ends, but the only things I recall are the dishes. The intricate designs and English bone china always fascinated me. Uncle Francis was from Massachusetts. He considered farm people unrefined so every July we received items guaranteed to give a little class to us yokels.

Aunt Marie was Mom's older sister and wanted her to have the best of everything, and I guess that included dishes. Ours were a little on the sorry side. Some were cracked or chipped, no two matched, and all had seen better days. On one of her yearly trips, Aunt Marie gave Mom a complete set of matching dishware. I don't remember the number of services, but I do know great care was taken to keep them looking like new. They graced our kitchen table only during major holidays. Afterwards we carefully washed, wrapped, and returned them to their boxes. Then it was back to the old beige plates, Peter Pan glasses, and enormous white cups.

It's funny how something as simple as a fancy dish can stir a kid's imagination. At some point in my childhood, I decided I would never set a table with mismatched dishes, and I silently declared war on ugly white cups from the dime store. I was determined to set a table as stylish and memorable as my aunt's.

My sister, Jude, and I visited our aunt and uncle in 1959. It was our first Greyhound bus trip to Detroit, and as two bumpkins it didn't take much to excite us. I don't remember our reaction as we crossed the mighty Mackinac Bridge, but I do recall our amazement at the fee involved in using the bus terminal restrooms. For a dime, the toilet was all ours. Luckily, seasoned travelers were among the group and probably noticed our bewilderment. Kind ladies held the door open and one-by-one we avoided the charge and left our deposits.

Aunt Marie owned a comfortable two-family brick home on Stoepel Street. She and Uncle Francis lived downstairs, and a widowed school teacher and her son rented the upstairs. As a country kid, I had no knowledge of city homes, and Aunt Marie's house was the most beautiful I had ever seen. I compared it to a palace. As well as a kitchen with a sunny breakfast nook, there was a separate dining room and a china cabinet filled with two Bavarian tea sets. My fate was sealed.

In 1968, at the age of 21, I married, moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and set up housekeeping. When Chuck and I entertained, it didn't matter if the roast beef was chewy or the chicken so dry it was more like a weapon than a main course. Nobody laughed when my husband pulled the giblets out of the bird's cavity after I had told our company the turkey didn't have one. And not once did anyone mention my attempt at baking a pecan pie where I added three cups of sugar instead of 1/3 cup. My inexperience as a cook was forgiven because my porcelain was spectacular, the centerpiece was magnificent, and napkin rings held linen napkins. It wasn't about the food. It was about my lovely table. Who could expect more from a newlywed?

The years zoomed by, my husband fled, my daughter moved away, but my dish inventory grew. Some sets are fine bone china. Others are purchases from K-Mart, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and yard sales. Regardless of their origin, all are special. If I entertained, my table would be worthy of a photo spread in Martha Stewart's magazine. But I don't entertain anymore, and my dishes are so special I never use them, not even the Christmas ones. I got them out, but I stacked them next to my supply of paper plates.

Like my dear aunt, collecting dishes is my hobby. Unlike her, using them is another story.


You know what I mean don’t you?

Meet Sharon