Using the Good Dishes — Becoming the Special Guest in Your Life
Contributing Author: Mary Ashley, NDAA Well-being Task Force Vice Chair
I often head stories from my mother about her childhood visiting at her grandparent’s house for a holiday, where they would eat “two” dinners. The first was in the early afternoon and the second was later in the evening. Everything would be “reset” after a few hours of cards and listening to the radio. She then told me stories about how the old family members would often eat downstairs in the basement on card tables and never upstairs in the formal dining room with the “nice” furniture or using the “good dishes.” I thought it was weird, but guessed it was just old-fashioned and normal in those times. “Fancy” things were only for special guests, not family.
And yet, in 2020, having my mother over to my house for a social distance visit, I prepared some dinner, set the table, sat my mom at the opposite end of the dining table in the dining room/COVID home office, and she said “these are the good dishes. Why are we using these? And the flatware, this is the formal flatware! And… linen napkins? No need. We can just use paper towels and paper plates!” This was not the first time this had happened.
We began a discussion about using the “good stuff” whenever we want to. And why would we withhold nice things from ourselves and save them only for others? It was an interesting conversation. It came at the perfect time, where being able to even share a meal with my mother in the same room was a gift by itself. During this pandemic, there may be good reason to use paper products, and sadly, there’s been a run on them when many were in need. But we still have our dishes, fancy or not, that we can wash with soap, dry and keep using.
The dishes. They are Mikasa bone china in a lovely creamy white color with tiny roses around the sides and a gold rim. Straight out of the . . . 70s? They were my grandmother’s “in between” set, then my mother’s and now mine for “nice occasions.” Ok, if you are under 40, I’ve lost you already. “In between” meant not ultra-expensive, not your wedding china, but not just every day “kitchen” plates either. But hear me out. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s. We had “guest” soaps in the bathroom, “guest” towels in the same bathroom, Andes “mint chocolates” (you remember, in the green wrappers) in the “guest” candy dish and formal china and flatware that remained in a curio cabinet and rarely used. Everything considered “nice” was reserved for company or for pure observation. Strangers. Guests. Friends. But not for us, not for family. Is this odd?
I’ve realized that these dishes I now have should be shared with the person who gave them to me: the person to whom they have sentimental value and who could appreciate them. But the question was “why would we dirty up these dishes just for us?” Now that’s the real issue — JUST FOR US.
I know that there are generational differences and I understand times change. I recognize that we now live in an era where many things are disposable. Years ago, people took better care of their things and, if something broke, it was repaired, not just replaced. It does seem that earlier generations built things that were better and made to last. It wasn’t as simple as clicking on Amazon and having a new one delivered the next day. If something was lost, it wasn’t as simple as, “I’ll just buy a new one.” During various economic times, there wasn’t the money or option to just replace things or upgrade them when a newer version came along. Often, we can be seen as “wasteful” instead of being careful. I can still recall going to a friend’s house with a plastic cover on the family room couch and having to sit on the plastic (now maybe in the time of COVID-19, this trend may return, but I sure hope not). It felt crunchy and uncomfortable, but kept the fabric in better condition.
Many baby boomers don’t understand why younger generations place so much emphasis on themselves. Making others a priority seemed more important. I don’t disagree that serving and helping others is highly important. Taking care of children and the elderly is essential, the very reasons I became a prosecutor. I just think everyone deserves time for themselves and should indulge, on occasion, using something special. The two concepts need not be mutually exclusive.
My message is simple. Use the good dishes, whatever that looks like or means to you. Use the nice soap and towels. Budget willing, always drink the good wine out of the pretty wine glass. Enjoy the quality food that is available to you. Select the front row tickets if we are ever fortunate enough again to attend live performances. Do the upgrade once when we can safely travel. Buy some flowers just for yourself to put out and enjoy. Light the new candle. WE are the special occasion. WE are the “guests” in our own lives that should be treated well. This isn’t dress rehearsal. If COVID 19 has taught us anything, it’s that what we once thought was improbable is very possible. And not in a good way. And that time is fragile, more so than bone china.
Yes, let’s use the nice things, sometimes, just for us. After all, what are we truly waiting for?
Well-being Task Force Vice Chair, Mary Ashley, is a Deputy District Attorney with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. Along with being a Board member of NDAA, Mary is also a member of the California District Attorneys Association and NDAA’s Vice Chair Women Prosecutors Section.