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Southern Tradition

posted Aug 24, 2012, 6:50 PM by Lynn Salsi

Summer never makes me feel nostalgic. That generally happens in the fall. However, I recently sold the last five pieces of my mother's wedding china. It wasn't something that I was excited about. The fact is, I have crystal which is much less fragile looking than hers and a great deal more utilitarian. That means young visitors are welcome to use it and if they break it, it is readily available at a reasonable price.

On the other hand, my mother's was discontinued decades ago, and through the years of living and multiple moves it was reduced to only a few pieces. To replace it was over $35.00 per piece. I held on to it for old time's sake for a few years. One day, one of my son's friends came over and commented that she didn't understand why southerners wanted so many fancy dishes. It seemed to her that no one used them and they just took up space. I explained that the tradition dated back to Europe and the old times when brides assembled a "hope chest" of items that would be useful in their married life. In fact, my mother felt that "you" were "somebody" if you owned nice china and lovely crystal for twelve place settings.
Times have certainly changed. When I decided that no one that I knew would benefit from the crystal stemware, I found that Replacements only offered me fifty cents per piece. It would cost me more than $2.50 to drive it over or mail it to them. I did the only sane thing that I knew to do. I asked my husband to list it on E-bay. I only received about $25.00 which was about what my time was worth to pack it for shipping. And, since it had to go west of the Mississippi River, I miscalculated the postage and the amount it cost me to purchase a new box, new wrappings, etc. But, what I got in return was a story.

Stories are priceless to a writer. The new owner received it in good order and let me know that it completed her mother's set. Fantastic! The orphaned crystal found a home and in found it in another southern collection. That even made things better. Her mother's wedding crystal was never completed and the new owner now has a wonderful tribute to her mother. It really made me feel good that it didn't go to someone who was going to resell it. I know that my mother would be pleased.
But, as I wrapped the crystal to ship it, I had a horrible feeling of loss. I knew that these were my mother's best glasses. I actually worried that she might be looking down on me wandering why I wasn't the one to go shopping on E-bay to complete her pattern. But, we were never allowed to use the crystal. In fact, I don't remember ever using it but once in my entire life. That was when I got married and my mother cooked dinner for friends and family and set the table in her best china and crystal. That was it! Needless, to say it made me very happy that I'm still married to the same man. Those place settings on cool white linen really did it.

As my children were growing up, I'd encourage mother to set one of those beautiful southern tables with flowers from the garden, so that my children could have the experience. That never happened. In reality, my mother never liked to cook. She finally said one day, "I think about it, but I hate to hand wash all of those dishes." So, for at least 21 years, I set formal tables with real flowers and candles. My mother loved it. It finally came to me. She loved formal meals when someone else was setting the table, cooking the food, and washing the dishes.

That became part of my role in the family until the day my mother passed away 18 months ago ast the age of 89. Her role was to gad-about in her car, make the most beautiful quilts in the world, and - no one was a better seamstress. Her fine sewing of doll clothes is legendarywithin our family. So, as I mailed off five pieces of the precious past, I realized that my mother shed it long ago. She was busy doing things that really counted. And, she never counted washing dishes as one of those things. After all, she was born in 1915 and washed enough dishes by the time she was twenty-five that she could have had a law degree.

I think about that sometime. Women do so many mundane things over and over, like mopping floors, washing clothes, and browning ground beef. If we could re-capture that time, just think of what could be accomplished toward saving the world, creating labor-saving inventions, and forcing the price of oil down. We need to band together.

So, thanks to Mrs. Burt who now has the crystal in a revered collection. It is touching that someone in another state, someone that I have never met, has a tiny place in my heart for perserving my past. But someone I don't know has now added to my thoughts about how quickly we are lossing our traditions. They must be saved, even if we only write them down for future generations to read about.
Do it! Write about things you remember! Future generations will appreciate it.