Paper plates? What would Mother say?

Published 12:19 pm Saturday, January 9, 2016

What would Mother think, I pondered, as I posed a question to my daughter and granddaughter on Christmas day: “I’ve decided to use paper plates today. What do you think?”

“I think it is a great idea. Let’s do it,” one of them said. “Yes, let’s do it,” agreed the other. So instead of having my granddaughter stand on a stool to reach the top shelves in a kitchen cabinet to hand me down my pretty Christmas dishes, I ripped open a package of paper plates.

“Sorry, Mother,” I said under my breath as we scurried about getting the food organized on the dining room table. Maybe nobody but me realized that in my house for an untold number of years, there had never been paper plates on my table for our main Christmas meal. They were standard fare for the leftovers we spread in the evening, but NEVER for Christmas dinner.

By now, you have guessed there is a story behind those Christmas dishes. For several years, my mother worked in the china shop at Loveman’s department store in Birmingham. It was one of the top department stores in Birmingham. Mother loved her job there because she loved the merchandise she dealt with every day. She had customers who returned time after time to purchase wedding gifts from her as well as gifts for other events. She was often the top department salesperson.

During holidays, she worked long hours, but she always managed to get the house decorated and goodies prepared for my family’s visits. The plastic Santa front door cover was in place and the Christmas tree always stood in living room with brightly wrapped Christmas gifts under it. Daddy shopped for favorite candies and fruit that made the house smell like Christmas.

One cold, rainy day a few days before Christmas while my family and I were relaxing following our long drive home from South Carolina, Mother called. “I need you to come to town to pick up some dishes for me.” She explained that the department manager had offered any interested department employees a “fantastic buy” on some Christmas dishes. Her car was parked several blocks from the store. It would have taken her three or four long walks to haul those Christmas dishes to it.

She directed us where to meet her. It was almost dark when we arrived. We picked up the dishes and took them to her house. Every Christmas from that day forward, she used them at Christmas dinner. She brought them with her when she came to live with us in 1989. The tradition continued even after her passing in 2005.

I guess I felt a bit guilty using those paper plates. But I think Mother would have understood if she had heard the family bragging about getting everything cleaned up so quickly. And, as they said, less scraping and dish washing gave us more time to relax instead of “slaving” in the kitchen.

As for next year—we will see.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.