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Let me ‘dish’ up a little story

Many years ago, my husband and I and our two children traveled from Cookeville, Tenn., to visit family back home in Alabama for Christmas. It was during one of these visits that a family tradition started in my parents’ home that remains a part of our Christmas celebrations to this day.

My mother worked in the china department at Loveman’s, a Birmingham department store. She loved her job and what she sold — fine china, everyday china, crystal and lots of other beautiful items. She had a flair for decorating and took pride in getting the house ready for our Christmas visits. As the time drew nearer to Christmas, she worked longer hours at the store. I often wondered how she found time to have everything perfect for us upon our arrival.

As always, a full-sized banner with Santa on it hung on the front door. A Christmas tree sat in a corner of the living room, ringed by brightly wrapped packages of various sizes. Everything looked clean, bright and shiny throughout the house. Oranges, apples and tangerines overflowed from a huge bowl on the round maple table in the dining room. If you plundered a bit, you could find a container of homemade fudge, another stuffed full of pecan meringue cookies and another of Mother’s divinity candy. A look in the refrigerator revealed a tightly wrapped aluminum foil package containing her unbaked fruitcake. Another sneak peak usually turned up a lemon ice-box pie, sometimes two.

It was in this atmosphere of a cozy, warm house that we basked the next day after our arrival. It was cold and dreary outside, similar to some of the December days we’ve recently experienced. Both my parents were at work. The telephone rang. “Can you come to town?” Mother asked. “I have a chance to buy a set of beautiful Christmas dishes. The manager wants to clear them all out and has offered the employees a fabulous price. The catch is that we have to take them today. I need help getting mine to the car.”

We bundled ourselves in heavy coats and gloves and headed for town, merging with the rush of last-minute shoppers. Mother had her packages ready for us when we pulled to a curb. We loaded them into the car and whisked them off to the house. That night, Mother and I unpacked the dishes. We washed and stacked them in readiness for our Christmas day feast. We set the table with them that Christmas and each year afterward.

A few years before Mother came to live with us in 1989, she asked me to bring the dishes to our house. When the holidays approach, the dishes come down from a shelf. So far, we’ve never celebrated Christmas at our house without them on our table.

At some point every Christmas season, I always remember that mad dash into Birmingham on a dreary December day to take home my mother’s Christmas dishes.