Giving Thanks for the Little Things

Everyday Adventures

I’ve had a reason to stop at the grocery store each night on the way home, there are two pans of cornbread chilling out on the counter for dressing, and pies and cranberry sauce made. Yup, it’s Thanksgiving!

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always Mom’s favorite holiday. When we still made an annual pilgrimage back home to Louisiana, it’d be for Thanksgiving more often than not.

She preferred it over Christmas and I can see why. Leaving aside the pressures on a single mother to come up with presents and a tree and all the other things that go with the typical idea of Christmas, Thanksgiving is about food, and family, and taking a moment to be grateful for what you have, not wishing for what’s next. Those big dinners at Paw-Paw’s house were full to bursting with people, with tables and counters piled high with food. You grabbed a plate, piled it high, and found someplace, any place, to sit and eat.

Many years we kids ended up on the porch steps.

As much as I look back at those trips with a certain nostalgia or fondness, I admit to wanting, if not the full Norman-Rockwell experience, at least something closer to what I saw in the media, or even what I experienced at Sunday dinners at friends’ homes.

Which is to say, everyone seated around one table, food being passed from person to person. And everything that goes with it.

Seems silly, really, in the grand scheme of things. But it’s what I wanted.

Thrifted Table and Chairs for $50 (the leaves are leaning against the wall near the window)

Thrifted Table and Chairs for $50 (the leaves are leaning against the wall near the window)

So when we stumbled upon that dining room table and chair set for $50 at the thrift shop on the next block, I was ecstatic because this table was wide enough to hold people and their plates and still have room for serving dishes. Could seat 8 with no problem and up to 12 if we were in the mood to be cozy. Not only that, but we’d have enough chairs, between the old kitchen table and the new-to-us chairs that we wouldn’t have to bring out folding chairs or wheel in our desk chairs anymore.

Last year, getting ready for our first Thanksgiving in the Dollhouse, I was already looking forward to it when at work, the Friday before, one of the guys in the back came up and said I had several big boxes and did I want to bring my car into the alley for them to load ’em up.

They filled my trunk, the back seat, and even one in the front--it was like moving again!

They filled my trunk, the back seat, and even one in the front–it was like moving again!

Realizing what it must be, I looked at Mom across the office and uttered, rather indelicately,

Did she ship the f-ing china and silver?!


Years back, Aunt M polled the nieces and nephews to see what of her Mom’s things we wanted. She wasn’t planning to wait until the reading of the will to disperse them, instead she was going to downsize in “5 years” (I later found out that was a rolling deadline) when she retired and parcel everything out, then. I requested the china and silver if they weren’t already spoken for.

See, when I was much younger, between ages 3 and 5 or so, we lived with my grandmother on my dad’s side and that house is the site of my earliest memories, including the Thanksgiving I was still in my high chair, at the corner of the formal dining room table, and I asked my uncle in the next seat for another roll as I’d eaten mine. That’s when he explained that I was supposed to save my roll as a pusher (to get food onto my fork) and then eat the roll last.

I don’t know if that’s common advice, but I remember that. And I remember the table set with the china and silver (though I couldn’t exactly remember the patterns). It didn’t matter what they looked like, it was a part of my childhood and I wanted it if it was available.

So in those seven massive boxes, packed in a mountain of bubble wrap and packing peanuts, was Maw Maw Hoover’s service for 12, plus serving dishes. Aunt M was flying in for the holiday in a few days (so I didn’t expect the dishes until a trip she drove down because, really, that’s a lot to ship) and wanted to surprise me.


Noritake Ardis china and Chantilly silver

Noritake Ardis china and Chantilly silver

Todd and I spent a good while digging out all the pieces, checking them for damage to assure my aunt that everything came through fine. Dinner, salad, and dessert plates, coffee cups and saucers and even demitasse cups and saucers all fine and accounted for. I was like a kid in a candy store!

Finally, a family dinner done "right."

Finally, a family dinner done “right.”

I host a baby shower that weekend, so the salad plates were immediately put to use, then Aunt M offered to polish the silver Thanksgiving morning, saying it was usually her job as the youngest to do so, so she’d do it again. And over dinner she told us the story of why there are 13 dinner forks.

The Story of the 13 Forks

The china and silver don’t date back to when my grandparents got married, but to when their oldest daughter (20 years Aunt M’s senior) got married and was doing all the registering for gifts and selecting patterns and whatnot. Maw Maw decided she deserved some china and silver herself. She was always afraid of the silver being stolen, however, and there was a specific hiding spot in the sideboard or wherever that they stashed the silver rolls (preferred over the cases because they were easier to hide/less obvious). Paw Paw, however, was adamant that no one was going to steal the silver and shook his head at her foolishness.

Well, they came home one day and the house had been broken into. First thing Maw Maw says is “check the silver.” Paw Paw insists that it would be there, and it was… or so they thought.

I don’t remember if anything (else) was taken from the home, but it turned out that one of the silver rolls had been absconded with, the one with the dinner forks, and was subsequently replaced. Then, later on, a fork was found in the grass outside the huge double doors that were really the front doors but that no one ever used because the kitchen entrance was more convenient. Whoever had stolen the forks was in such a hurry that they must not have noticed when one fell out of its slot.

And that is why there are 13 forks for our otherwise service for 12.

Always good to have a spare, I suppose!

Not gonna lie, I was pretty happy to set our table with the family china and silver, and use the pretty serving dishes along the middle of the table as the sold table decoration (except for the runner shot with silver and gold, tying the curtains and the silver edges of the plates together). There was no need for a buffet, though we did have to remind my brothers which direction to pass the food in, and I was happy to have what I always considered a “normal” family dinner.

This year, Aunt M won’t be joining us for Thanksgiving, she’s preparing to sell her house in New Jersey and relocate to her not-as-downsized-as-originally-planned lake house in Kentucky before jetting off to Liberia to supervise another round of labwork on the Ebola vaccine trials or something to that effect. She’s a busy woman. So I’ll be the one polishing the silver while watching the Macy’s parade this year.

I realize this post might sound sort of superficial–silver, china, a dinner table–it’s not exactly earth-shattering reasons for gratitude. If we were still serving buffet style and using folding tables and our IKEA flatware I’d be just as happy to be hosting another Thanksgiving dinner for my family. At the same time, that dining room table is one of the things that actually helps me feel like a capable adult, instead of the inner clueless 18-year-old that is my usual, and looking at 40 around the corner I figure it’s about time!

So, yes, I’m grateful for my home, my family, my friends. I’m thankful that I have a job that pays the bills, and that I’m able to do what I want with my time the rest of the days and weekends. And tomorrow will likely be a little hectic at moments and on Friday we’ll plunge into the Christmas season and the headlong rush to 2016. But it’s the little things, like the $50 dining room table, that remind me of all of that and more.

Water Wars, Part 2

64 Arts

Have you ever been part of an epic water balloon fight?

Growing up we lived with my grandmother (and at other times lived right across the field from them, or so I’m told–I was a little too young to remember that part) before moving to Florida when I was 6. The house was built for them, their retirement house, Maw-Maw’s dream house.

It had the massive double doors that let into an entryway with a formal sitting room to the left and a beautiful staircase to the left leading to the second floor Maw Maw never wanted but Paw Paw found this staircase at a hotel that was being torn down and, basically, brought it home. I think that’s kinda cool.

The point of that little digression was to point out that we had the major front entrance that no one ever used. Except Mom when she’d go out the mow the lawn. We always used the door off the driveway, through the breezeway that led into the breakfast nook.

But outside the real front doors was this massive yard, studded with very tall trees dripping with moss, pretty much the perfect look for a southern home. It was there we had our war.

Mom doesn’t remember this. She swears that Maw Maw must not have known about this, either, because there’s no way she would have allowed it. But I know I didn’t hallucinate it–I remember it vividly and I never hurt myself in my imaginary lives, so, yes, this happened.

It was all the cousins (they’re older than me) and various others. There were hundreds of water balloons pre-filled and stored in coolers around the yard. One, in particular, was on a tree stump sorta in the middle of things. I remember this because I was going for a refill and the lid clunked me on top of the head–see? If I hurt myself it really happened.

Now, I don’t remember why we were doing it. I remember having long sleeves and long pants on, so maybe it was chilly outside? I don’t remember if there was a goal or teams or what. It was probably just a free-for-all.

The thing was, though, it happened. And it was fun.


Some tips for launching your own epic water balloon armada:

  • Choose your balloons based on their use: games you could use a thicker balloon to make it last longer, but if splash value is high on your list, go for the thinner balloons made for this purpose.
  • Fill a BUNCH of balloons ahead of time. I think the cooler idea was inspired (not to mention might keep them nice and chilly–extra nice on a really hot day. Mesh bags, laundry baskets and wagons also make good containers for transport.
  • Consider asking everyone to wear white or light-colored clothes (that they don’t mind ruining) and tinting the water in the balloons with food dye–it’s like a paintball fight without the guns!
  • Be careful not to overfill your balloons or they’ll pop even before you touch them!
  • Have a game at the end of the day’s activities to collect all the little bits and pieces of busted balloons with a prize for the person who collects the most. You could count the pieces or use a digital scale to weigh them out to save time. Prizes could be anything from a package of new balloons, a special beach towel–embroidered or appliqued with the date of the event?–or a paper-mache balloon trophy!