It was the year 1935, the height of the Great Depression, and I had reached the ripe old age of 8. My knowledge of the world was limited to the lifestyle of a small Mississippi town, including corn bread, grits, black-eyed peas, and nearby fields and streams; but at the time, that was all I wanted to know. I was happy with what I had: a sturdy old wooden house, three meals a day such as they were, and a family overflowing with love and concern for each other.
A week before Christmas, my mother discovered that her serving platter was cracked, and she had no other dish that would hold a 20-pound turkey, a rare holiday treat. She asked me to go to town, purchase another one, and charge it to her. What she had in mind was a “ten-cent store” special, costing no more than a dollar.
After a thorough search of the “dime store,” I found that all such platters were long gone. Then I went into the junk store/antique shop, hoping to find a used one.
What I found was an antique serving platter big enough to hold the largest turkey ever hatched. It was a blue-on-white platter made in England, and it was priced at the staggering sum of $25 – enough back then to feed a family of four for three months. And I bought it.
My mother’s face showed concern when I handed it to her and said what I had done, but she did not order me to return it to the store. Instead she said, “This will make the most beautiful Christmas table we’ve ever had.”
During all my growing-up years, that platter appeared on the table twice each year – at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And what pleasure it brought to everyone, especially at Christmas – back in a time when Christmas was a joyous and loving season, not commercial in any way – times when an apple and an orange, a few Brazil nuts, a nickel bag of rock candy, and perhaps one little wooden toy would make the eyes sparkle with glee. And then that wonderful roasted turkey sitting on top of a blue-on-white platter, gracing the center of the table.
Two years ago my mother, the last surviving parent, died. When the surviving parent dies, it is more than just a human death – it is the end of the road, the final page of a way of life. Never again can you go back to an old house vibrant with parents and children and grandchildren gathered for a joyous occasion. The door is closed forever.
After the funeral, I brought that serving platter home with me. It sits now on top of a china cabinet, filled not with turkey but with memories, cherished memories that no one can take away from me.
As I look back at all those times – times so different from today’s hectic world – I am thankful that I was innocent enough to pay $25 for an antique serving platter. I would not sell it for its weight in gold. Someday, it will grace the table of my children, their children and grandchildren. Perhaps it will generate memories for them too.
Patrick Smith, 1986
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