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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Revisiting the tradition of rainbows on the wall (original title)

Rainbows on the wall

Published 11/28/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 11/22/2013 04:48 PM
"When I die you get the crystal," my mother said.
I was 10 and she thought if I believed the glass would be mine someday I wouldn't mind helping her set the table. I didn't mind, I loved doing it.
The hand-cut crystal serving pieces came out of the cupboard three times a year: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Like a family ritual my mother and I would wash, rinse and carefully dry the exquisite pieces, set them on the holiday table in the sun and watch as reflected rainbows of color danced on the dining room walls.
Preparing for a house full of family and friends was fun and exciting. When I was older, with a home of my own, the torch of entertaining passed to me, so I actually got the crystal many years before my mother passed away. I didn't use all the pieces like she did, but they became the constancy of tradition.
This year, for no particular reason other than I've been cleaning and sorting, I decided to hand over some of the pieces to the next generation, my daughters. It's easy sharing the objects I remember as a young girl. Handing them down before I'm gone is a privilege. I get to see the continuity of things; to tell the stories of the objects again and I get to peruse the cupboards of memories that will never fade as long as there is someone to remember them.
I kept a few small pieces, not because I'll actually use them anymore, but because I like the way they look and I'm not yet ready to shed it all. The girls took what they wanted and the shelves were clean. I can't imagine my modern daughters using the heavy hand-cut and etched oval and round bowls to hold vegetables during future Thanksgivings, but I'm sure the smaller vases will often hold flowers.
Thinking of future Thanksgivings reminds me of one of the most memorable of my past. It was a huge endeavor attempted by my mother and father shortly after they moved to the farmhouse of their dreams in Montville in the late 1960s. I had just returned home from a year in South Africa so it gave me a chance to see family members I hadn't seen in many months.
Just after my parents moved into the farmhouse my father gutted the kitchen, tore down walls and installed a bank of six windows over the place where a kitchen sink was supposed to go. Those beautiful windows overlooked the rolling hills and small apple orchard behind the house. My father convinced my mother that the kitchen would be finished by Thanksgiving. It had to be, two dozen members of the family were showing up. The double ovens were installed and the fridge was temporarily placed in a back laundry room. The rest of the kitchen, with the beautiful windows and scenery, was empty.
Because you can't cook for 24 without a sink and a stove, my dad mounted a kitchen sink on two by fours and shoved a stove up against the wall and plugged it in. A huge picnic table, with benches, was placed in front of the kitchen's fireplace and two other tables were set up. Because the walls had been removed it was one magnificent room. Using her best china, silver and all the crystal, the formally set tables were exquisitely beautiful in the rustic setting.
The house was full of family and the tummies full of food. The men napped after, and the women washed dishes. I was part of the drying crew. There were no countertops so each wet plate was passed one by one, for us wipe dry and place on a shelf in the laundry room. The crystal was placed on the highest shelf until Christmas.
Our family often recalled that Thanksgiving as one of the most memorable. The kitchen was finally finished by Easter.
I'm hoping my daughters will use the crystal with their own beautiful dishes. On a crisp linen tablecloth or on picnic table, in a house or in a barn, I hope the pieces are used and continue to make memories.
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