Doesn’t it make you feel so good, SO special, when you stand back and assess your work… the final product? Your table. The crystal glitters, facets just sparkling away. And the silver!! Rich and pearly white, giving a generous feeling of stability and comfort. Mama gave us this gift when we were quite young, so young we didn’t know we were learning. Although she couldn’t/didn’t cook, Mama set a killer table. That woman KNEW. My parents entertained often and she made it fun. Days before an event, Mama would take stock of her “booty”. Oh, Lord! Did she have good stuff!! She used it often, thankfully she was not of the mindset, “Oh, this is TOO special!! I’ll save it for Christmas Eve.” Uh uh. Silver was used every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. She taught us you’ll polish less if you use it every day. And it’s so pretty. Why not surround yourself with as much beauty as you can? She’d look over the list of hors d’oeuvre she’d be serving, blessedly prepared by a caterer, and then decide on the most suitable platters and pieces. They always came out of their storage spots swathed in green flannel with cream-colored satin ribbons sewn in the flannel to keep the fabric in place. The dining room table had been opened with the extra leaves dropped in. Our housekeeper, Frankie, would always help Mama with the table and when they would stretch it open, wadded up napkins would come tumbling out of the tracks from MY end of the table where I had hastily shoved half chewed up bites of boiled vegetables my father insisted I eat. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “They were disgusting”. And when those moldy napkins fell on the floor, Frankie scooped them up, dropped them in her pockets and kept right on laughing and gossiping with my mother. She never told on me, either.
Frankie and Mama would move those serving pieces around and around until they were just perfect, they flowed, in proportion with the appetizer and the table. This past weekend was Greek Easter and I had a house to ready. I thought of those two wonderful ladies when I pulled my table apart. I spent half a day polishing silver, LORD it seemed like it would NEVER end!!! But when I put those bowls and platters of gleaming silver on the table of dark wood, I enjoyed the contrast of textures. I appreciated the simple beauty of the room, the light, the graceful lines of the table. Mama taught us that. She would stand back and look at her efforts and adjust where needed. Then she would take little scraps of paper and write the name of the dish to be served on each scrap and drop them into the appropriate serving piece.
She would always arrange her flowers herself, whether they came from outside or a florist. She made sure we knew, better dead flowers in the house than no flowers in the house. And silk never even entered the equation, never mind the house!! The candles were always cream or off white. Tall tapers sat elegantly in candlesticks, the wicks black from having been lit for one minute then carefully blown out. Mama said white, unlit wicks were just too harsh and didn’t necessarily say good things about their owners. That falls in the silk flower category. I had lilies on my table and made certain I cut out the pollen-filled stamens from all the open blooms. Many a tablecloth, napkin, sofa or chair has been ruined by this powdery orange substance. Mama taught me to do that.
I decided I wanted to use my crystal but not formal china nor linen napkins. I work. I’m old. And I’m tired. You cannot load a dishwasher with china and linens have to be spotted, cleaned and ironed. I did, however, choose a lovely linen runner that I would gladly take to the dry cleaners the following day. It’s a beautiful runner, made of soft, blue linen with small brilliant purple, pansy-looking, silk floss flowers embroidered all around the edges. The table looked just lovely! It made me so happy to look at it. My mentor and close friend, BL, once told me the prettiest tables are the ones that sparkle and to have a sparkling table you need faceted crystal. When Jimmy and I were to be married and were registering for our glasses, boy, did I keep THAT in mind!!! And as I set these exquisite, fragile goblets out I was so very grateful for that piece of advice. They are splendid and give such pleasure! All these things came slowly, some were gifts and some I saved and saved. It was always a really good sign when Mama showed up at your doorstep with a bag under her arm. And the rattier, the better!! The first bag was when I was single. Heart pounding, I slowly opened the offered bag and found… grapefruit spoons. MA-a-ma. I remember thinking, “What am I going to do with these?? You’re going to take them with a smile on your face and brightly say ‘THANK YOU!’, that’s what you’re gonna do!!” And I did. A few years later, the next bag was bigger and shabbier. It was an old, paper, grocery store bag all soft and creased under her arm. My heart leapt!! It was my great grandmother’s silver. We referred to her as “Battle Axe”. Be that as it may, it was beautiful and it was MINE!! Additional pieces were acquired by saving a little here and a little there, wherever and whenever we could. Mama always said to all of us, “I want you to use this NOW. I want you to enjoy this while I’m alive, not dead. I want to SEE you enjoy this.” And I think we all have. She taught us even if we had no money that we were to keep a clean house. Bring flowers in from outside. Sit at the dinner table. Good manners show respect and courtesy to others. My mother was not a snob. She was, however, gracious, soft-spoken and gentle. She had a red-hot temper but never succumbed to coarse or offensive behavior as her second child is wont to do. And she so appreciated pretty things! Like Pamela hiding in the lilies. More Prosecco, Pam?
Here’s something ALMOST free to put on your table and all your guests will gobble it up! I mean it! Get an uncut loaf of good, whole-grain bread. Cut it into thick slices and place side by side on a baking sheet. Drizzle LIGHTLY with good olive oil and scatter a bit of kosher salt over the bread. Place on a hot grill for a minute or two per side. Lordy, that’s good!! And it’s pretty! Did I mention cheap?