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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Polishing Up the Past

It's that time again - time to get out the silver and the few good dishes I own and spruce them up for company. I didn't grow up with sterling flatware. Mama was far too practical and efficient a person to want to fiddle around with silver polish - although I remember there was a little jar of Twinkle Silver Polish beneath the kitchen sink. I wonder what she ever used it for. But ours was a strictly utilitarian table. Even when she finally got a set of matching flatware, it was stainless steel and Daddy and I bought it for her for Christmas one year. I suspect it was a particularly uninspiring gift for her but it thrilled my little teenage heart. I could hardly wait till it was my turn.

Daddy is the one who grew up with sterling flatware  ThePrince did too but his mother not only used it all the time, she had also selected a very plain pattern so if it did need polishing it was easy to do.  One Christmas though, she took me up into the attic and pushed a box towards me, saying that this was all the extra bits and pieces of silver flatware from her side of the family and did I think I'd like it as a Christmas gift?  Would I? Is grass green?

She was the only person in her generation who both married and had children and over the years she inherited houses full of stuff. I was on the scene when Mimi's house was emptied out and most of the furniture in that house ended up in mine. In 40 years of marriage I have only ever bought 3 pieces of furniture. I love living with these pieces of the past. Their past is now my past and my present is their future. We have shared a life together that makes me feel very cozy. It helps when I have to dust these curlicued bits of history - and makes housework a little more like caresses. Ditto with the silver - which is of all different designs.

This year I thought I'd track down the names of these silver patterns - just in case somebody wanted to make me a gift - or maybe a set came up at auction and the sliver melters didn't hear about it.  Also, since our Thanksgiving guest list will be smaller than in recent years, I am sticking to as many complete places settings as I have - and piecing out the rest in similar patterns.

The Haile/Blakey/Wright silver is the most mixed and unmatched. There are 8 dessert forks in Concord, a 1926 pattern by Wallace so I'm sure they're Mimi's silver since that's about when she got married.

There are 2 groups of 6 spoons - but neither of them match the knives and none of them are in the Concord pattern. There is also the ancient ladle from the Wrights of Greenway. Grandma says it was scraped so many times against the oyster stew pot the lip of the bowl wore down. This piece is about 200 years old now and I didn't even try to track down that pattern. It's what I'd call ... Old Plain Silver ...  as opposed to plain old silver.

That very scrolly fruit sever on the cloth above the ladle is another Blakey piece that so far I have yet to identify. It's the dickens to clean if it ever gets tarnished but I keep it wrapped in silver cloth.

The silver from my side o the family is some of my grandmother's flatware. The pattern is Clermont and it's a 1915 Gorham pattern.  For decades I've lusted to have matching place settings in sterling and for the last 5 or 6 years that Daddy was still in his own house he'd say "There's some flatware in that drawer. If you want it you can have it."

Well. I thought I knew what my parents owned and I didn't need More Stainless Steel flatware so I would always say no thanks. But when we moved him to a senior apartment and I finally opened that drawer and discovered the box held the familiar silver from my grandmother's table I felt like an idiot. I remember he was in his huge ungainly recliner and I sat beside him as we looked at the contents of the box.

"Oh yes. That's the McClean silver" he told me. His father had been Evelyn Walsh McClean's lawyer. Yes. The Hope Diamond Lady. And there are dozens of stories about her - how she would visit and toss the diamond in his lap for him to play with ... She must have been very colorful. Daddy said she gave that silver to his mother and it may be true but - then again - it may not. So I just think of it as Grandma's Silver.

There is also a story about two aunts, a theft and a quarrel and the silverware, but there you have it. Family stories tend to get inflated with the telling, especially if there is some jealousy behind them and besides - I was only about 14 so I may have misunderstood.

All those stories, all that history, all the memories are just the thing for a Thanksgiving eve when beloved friends and family are on their way to feast with us. It will be my delight to spread the table with my old friends, all spruced up, polished and gleaming and ready to serve.

A happy Thanksgiving thought.


  1. Lovely silver memories, dear Bess. :-) I grew up with a blend of sterling and silver plate...including a full tea service (!) that I last used at a "Jane Austen Afternoon" (yes, I 'poured out')...When I moved to my wee home I gave all my stainless flatware and 'every day' dishes to my son (who had nothing) and now dine daily with silver (sterling & plate) and bone china. Ah, the high life! Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Oh Margaret - what a wise thing to do - and why not use only the best. I am thinking I should do the same with my silver. It's a shame to save it for only a couple of holidays.

      Wishing you a cozy thanksgivng too - because it is always a good time to be thankful.