Making the occasion
Here’s one of those new words that amuse me. Tablescape.
What the heck is tablescape? Growing up we had a table. Actually two tables, the one in the kitchen on which Mom prepared the meals that we ate and on which we also did our homework. Then there was the table in what was once the pantry, the “rescued room” that my parents built from the walls out and which was fitted with the crème de la crème of the 1950s…a Formica topped table with matching chairs. Ours was red.
Sadly it replaced my paternal grandmother’s perfectly good round oak table for which we also had and retained, a long sideboard. I don’t know what a sideboard is for, but it looked grand and it was ours.
This set of table and chairs wasn’t bigger than the table and chairs in the kitchen. It was thought of as the “good” table. You know, like the “good” dishes.
We also had “good” dishes. As dishes go, they were of little material value.
I think that my grandmother gave them to Mom as a wedding gift. She bought them at Woolworths. But they looked very nice, white with a tiny gold rim around each.
For everyday, we had a sturdy set of something that Mom bought with coupons from Betty Crocker. We had one set of eating utensils also loot from Betty Crocker coupons or was it Green Stamps? I don’t remember, but the set of knives, forks and spoons came from somewhere as a redemption prize.
We used the knives, forks and spoons, along with the dishes and drinking glasses that once held pimento cheese along with pepper, salt and maybe catsup on one or the other of the tables.
Even on special occasions and, for us the only special occasion, one at which we used the good dishes, was the Thanksgiving dinner that we hosted every year.
Perhaps it is my aging brain, but I can’t for the life of me remember how we fed all of those relatives with those two tables. But we did and on that occasion, we added some décor to the table. It was a ceramic elephant that held six small ceramic shot glasses.
Of course I didn’t know that these were shot glasses or even what a shot glass was. I thought they were small flower pots which was why I helpfully filled eat with dirt from the back yard and tried to transplant grass (lawn grass… even though we didn’t have what one would call a lawn) into each.
I was actually surprised that my father was, how shall I put this? Upset about this?’
We rarely used napkins. Paper napkins were an expense that was beyond our budgets and cloth napkins would have to be laundered. My mother already had enough on her hands with laundry for four children and two, sometimes four adults, depending on who was hiding out from whom in our spare bedroom.
We did have napkins, beautiful damask napkins that, according to family legend, my father won in a poker game. I still have them in their original box.
There were no decorations on those tables. They might sport a tablecloth on Sunday, Thanksgiving and Christmas or if Mom had inveigled one of the nuns from our school to have dinner with us.
So, as a young married woman, attending dinner parties where others were raised in the land of napkins and tablescapes, I had a large learning curve. In those way-back days the only recourse to a gal who was clueless and didn’t want anyone to know that she was so deficient, were magazines. I scoured the magazines for ideas and the center of my dinner table became “scaped.”
It often sported flowers, real, dried, faux and imagined. I have, somewhere, a box of “flowers” made from pipe cleaners glued to fabric and ersatz vines with similarly fake grapes attached. Classy.
At times there were pieces of fruit, sometimes sugared fruit when that was in vogue. There were always two candles appropriately in candlesticks that I had scrounged from second hand stores.
When Edwards closed its doors, I bought an entire box of winter white tapers, most of which I haven’t used as tablescapes became less important and where the food and friends became more important. If the power goes off, I am fixed for candles for quite a while.
Every once in a while I will pull our a stop or two and decorate the dinner table with some whimsical offering or a very unarranged bouquet, but the circle has turned as it always does and we are mostly back to the dishes, the knives, forks, spoons and condiments.
Maybe it’s time to resurrect the candles. They do lend something special to a meal. But, as always, it’s the people who make it the occasion.