There was this bowl my mother kept in the dining room breakfront. One Easter, my sister Rita took it down and put colored Easter eggs in it. Mama was furious. She said it belonged to Grandma and was “for good.” I was under the dining room table peering out through the lace table cloth when they went at it.
Apparently it was cut glass made in Ireland. I was grown and in New York when I saw a similar bowl on the table of a girlfriends’ home. It was filled with jelly beans. Mama would have had a stroke.
Well, Rita never touched it again, but my father thought the “for good” thing was silly, and one morning he filled it with Wheaties and milk. Mama was furious. They had a big fight about it. I can’t remember what was said, just that it was loud, and that mama said it was only “for good.” I guess “good” never came, because she never took it out of that breakfront.
I remember two things. Those were my Wheaties he took, and that it was right after St. Patrick’s Day. Two weeks later my father died on the street. Right after the funeral, Mama gave the bowl to her sister, Mamie. She now considered it haunted. Catholic guilt is a terrible thing.
That memory came to mind when I saw this sign in the market last night: “Life is short, use the good bowl.”
Well, life is short. One morning you’re having your ninth birthday party, you go to bed with a sick stomach from too much cake, and then you wake up and you’re 78 and your stomach is still upset from too much wine.
So I’m advocating a national “Use The Good Bowl Month.” In fact, we should just make it “Use The Good Stuff.” I’m going to posit this idea to She, who should be the poster girl for the “Use The Good Stuff Now” program. As one who believes in buying the best quality or don’t buy at all, she has an extensive wardrobe and wears it all now, as though an asteroid is aimed at Maine.
She says the only thing she’s saving for good is a red dress she’s going to wear to my wake. Well, if she goes first, I’m going to wear that dress to hers. I’ll be fabulous.
But she has one weak link: this breakfront full of her mother’s and grandmother’s china and ruby glass. This is the only stuff she saves for “good.” Every Christmas, out comes the Havilland and Wedgwood china along with these elaborate “serving dishes,” gorgeous plates, so heavily embossed with colorful fruit, that you couldn’t possibly put food on them. That’s the trick. Conceivably, guests sit and stare at the beautiful plates until the food is served, and then they’re removed and put back into the breakfront, never seeing the light of day again for 365 days.
Having been raised in a family that ate from dinner and silverware all embossed with U.S. Navy, I still find this practice to be bizarre.
Then there are the stacks of other antique dishes and bowls, none of them from Ireland, but unique, and most have never left the sanctuary of the breakfront, never been covered with mashed potatoes, have never had gravy licked from them by a dog, never seen a dishwasher. When I once suggested that we dine off of the gold rimmed plates, she was shocked. “Spaghetti on my grandmother’s Havilland?”
So in the spirit of “Use The Good Stuff” month or day or whatever you care to call it, we’re going around the house picking out all the “for good stuff” and use it or toss it.
My first choice is the camel hair top coat hanging in the hall closet. I wear it on Christmas Eve to accompany her to church. It’s a lovely coat and very slimming. Well, it tugs a bit around the belly, but that will change as soon as I lose my required weight. In the meantime, I let it hang open, which reveals one of the dozen “for good” ties I have hanging in the upstairs closets.
This week we’re going to celebrate the subtitle to the day: “Fine Dining on Fine Dinnerware.” Each night we will have pasta and marinara on Grandma’s Wedgewood, and stir fry on Havilland, using a sterling silver antique pair of chop sticks I found at a flea market.
By the end of “Use the Good Stuff” month, we will have debauched the past and celebrated the future by throwing everything else out. I may keep the coat for when I get to my ideal weight. It is slimming.
I wonder if she has a red dress. I’d better find it and give it to Goodwill and let someone else wear it to my funeral.
J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.