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I’ll always remember mother’s dishes

When it is time to take down my Christmas dishes from a couple of shelves in my kitchen every year, I remember my mother’s frantic call for help to come get them and take them home. Mother loved her job and the gift items she sold in the china shop of a large Birmingham department store. Among them were fine and everyday china, crystal, and silverware.

In those days, my husband, two children and I lived in Cookeville, Tennessee. We always looked forward to returning home to Alabama during the holidays. Mother had a flair for decorating and took pride in getting the house ready for our Christmas visits. She worked longer hours at the store during the Christmas season, but she still managed to have the house neat and shiny. I wondered how she did it.

As always upon our arrival, Santa greeted us from a full sized banner hung on the front door. A Christmas tree sat in a corner of the living room, ringed by brightly wrapped packages. Various sized oranges, apples, and tangerines selected especially by my daddy, overflowed from a huge bowl on her prized round maple dining room table. I knew some of the hiding places for her goodies. If I plundered a bit, I usually found a container of Mary Ball fudge made from the store’s “secret” recipe. There were other containers stuffed with pecan meringue cookies and Mother’s divinity candy. A look in the refrigerator revealed a tightly wrapped aluminum foil package containing her unbaked fruit cake. Another sneak peek usually turned up a lemon ice box pie; maybe two.

It was in this atmosphere of a cozy, warm house that we basked the next day after our arrival. It was cold and dreary outside, similar to several December days we have recently experienced. Both my parents were still at work. The telephone rang. “Can you come to town?” Mother asked. “I have a chance to buy a set of beautiful Christmas dishes. Our manager wants to clear them all out and has offered the employees a fabulous price. The catch is we have to take them today. I need help getting mine to the car.”

We bundled up in heavy coats and gloves and headed for Birmingham, merging with the rush of last-minute shoppers. Mother had her packages ready for us when we pulled to a curb. We loaded them into the car and whisked them off to her house. That night Mother and I unpacked the dishes. We washed and stacked them in readiness for our Christmas day feast. We set the table with them that Christmas and almost each year afterward.

A few years before Mother came to live with us, she asked me to take the dishes to my house. As the holidays approach, the dishes come down from a shelf. We use them at Thanksgiving as well. Just a few times we have opted for heavy-duty paper plates to cut down on the dish washing chores. But to this day, just a glance at those top shelves remind me of that rush trip to Birmingham to pick up my mother’s Christmas dishes.