New Year, New Life

When Mom and Dad got married back in the 1930s, they didn’t have much of anything. Whether we know it from experience or from stories told to us by others, we know the 12-31-14 blog cup & saucerDepression was a tough time for a lot of people. Mom and Dad couldn’t afford a wedding so they loaded up the car and headed for the Black Hills of South Dakota where they eloped and then settled in Sturgis. My brother was born in the Deadwood hospital two years later and, when business called for another move, my sister was born in St. Paul. But I know that, unlike so many brides today, my mom never got to go to the stores to pick out fine china and so the young family just made do.

Sometime, however, in the first 10 years they were married Mom bought some good dishes. They weren’t fine china by any stretch of the imagination, but they were good dishes that she only set out on the dinner table for special occasions. Maybe she bought them in the Twin Cities, or Sioux City, or even in St. Joseph, Mo., for those were the places they lived during that time. They were an ivory color with green ivy on them. But I remember them so well from when I was growing up, because these were the dishes that would come out of the china cabinet on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. A complete set of cup and saucer, dinner plate and dessert plate. There were all of the pertinent accessory pieces too – gravy boat and covered vegetable bowl and the like – a complete service for eight people.

I also remember that most of those family dinners were pretty chaotic. It’s tough to get a big dinner on the table so that all the food is done and served at the same time and nothing gets cold. Well, Mom did that whether it was for three kids or four or whether Grandma and Grandpa or Aunt Helen and Uncle Pete happened to be visiting. So there always seemed to be complete chaos just before we would sit down for the meal. Then we would begin with a simple table grace – the only times we ever said a prayer before a meal was on these special occasions – and then the chaos would start all over again – everybody lunging for their favorite cut of turkey or a big slice of ham, for a hearty helping of potatoes and for the gravy so they could get as much as they wanted before it was all gone. And to add to the chaos, we could usually expect a fight to erupt between siblings during the course of the 30 minutes or so that we sat at the table.

These were great meals, but I seldom remember anybody stopping to say, “Thanks, Mom” before they pulled away from the table and collapsed for a nap on the living room floor. And, suddenly, it was quiet again. The dirty dishes still sitting at their respective places around the table which was deserted with the exception of Mom who continued to savor each morsel as she put it into her mouth, seldom looking up from the ivory colored plate with the green ivy around it.

Twenty-two year ago, Terry and some of my friends and I packed up the memories of that old house in St. Joe, Mo., and, as I pulled those dishes out of the china cabinet and carefully wrapped each piece in newspaper, I counted them. Eight plates, eight cups, eight saucers. All of the accessory pieces were there too. I was amazed that these dishes had survived close to 50 years of chaos, even those months when they maintained their existence in the safety of the china cabinet while toys were thrown around the house or, later, when insults and epithets were hurled just as the toys had been earlier.

But the dishes – service for eight – survived with but one indication of all they had been through. A saucer, its edge broken off rather cleanly into two little pieces. Yet the saucer survived because someone – either Mom or Dad – had carefully worked those pieces back together, gluing them to the main part of the dish so that it remains perfectly functional today.

I don’t know when that saucer was broken or how. But I suspect that when Mom needed a service for eight, she carefully took out the mended saucer and put it under her own cup, saving the perfectly round ones for her family and guests as they gathered once again for another special occasion. In essence, the plate was given new life for further service.

I think most of us feel a lot like that saucer sometimes. We seem to be going along in life pretty well. Then we get broken and in our brokenness we look around and it seems as though everybody else is like the rest of that set of good dishes – withstanding the slings and arrows of the years while we stand in their midst barely holding our pieces together. It doesn’t matter whether we’re very young or middle aged or in our senior years, every season of our lives presents new challenges for us and sometimes it seems we hold our brokenness together better than other times. Then when we put ourselves back together we look for ways to hide our brokenness much as I imagine my mother hiding the broken and mended saucer under her own cup.

Sometimes what we need to remember is that God put more than just a little glue on our brokenness so that our pieces might stick together again.  We may still want to hide our mended selves under a coffee cup, or, at least, out of sight so that we are the only ones who see. But I think, as the years go on, it is wonderful to look at one another and see all of the cracks and the brokenness God has mended for us.

I love this set of dishes. Ivy is back in style, you know. When I go into the fine dishes section in large department stores, I find several different china patterns done in ivy. On special occasions, I, like my mom, set these dishes out for those special dinners. If necessary, I, too, hide this broken and mended saucer under my own cup.

When God mends us,  all those cracks and glued together places make us illustrations for others of how God is still at work in our lives; and how we are also given new life for further service to others. New life for the new year ahead of us.

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14 comments for “New Year, New Life

  1. Beanie
    December 31, 2014 at 8:22 am

    What a beautiful message of Gods love and forgiveness! He really does mend is!

  2. Dave M
    December 31, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    I enjoyed the story behind the china – makes me also think how we sometimes wait for special days to use the special plates and realize too late that every day is special. Have a special and contented 2015.

  3. Pat C
    December 31, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Great message and I also have that set of china that is pulled off the shelf for those special occasions. Being one of seven siblings it is amazing that the china set – and siblings- survived. Of course, there are a few chips, hairline cracks = in both the china and us – but we still enjoy one another and stories of our youth and memories of our parents and grandparents. We are truly blessed – chips and all!

    • December 31, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      Pat, so good to hear from you and to know that you checked out the blog! Thank you and happy new year!

  4. David Deutsch
    January 2, 2015 at 12:08 am

    reading you is the next best thing to a fireside chat with a cup of tea and a bowl of Screaming Yellow Zonkers. There is something spiritual in the touchstones of our families, and you have chosen an apt example. I will tell you that my mom gave me a rare set of ivy China made in Occupied Japan. Soon after she died I was in a junk shop in LA and found several pieces of it. Taking it as a sign from her, I bought it all. Or maybe she just knew me well enough to know I would break a few pieces and would need extra pieces. Your china tale evokes such familial memories even as it draws poignant metaphors. Your memoirs are a delight. Happy new year, Gretchen.

    • January 2, 2015 at 7:19 am

      How thoughtful of you to share about your mom’s gift! You just make me smile with your comments about my blog. Thank you so much, Dave. And happy new year to you as well. 🙂

  5. Susan Hurst
    January 2, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Your china story made memories rush back for me. I so enjoyed reading this!

  6. Merrie Miller
    January 2, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Gretchen, I loved this article. It was so sweet and so poignant and it reminded me of the conversation our daughter-in-law and I had at Christmas about my newest “good china” which I have only used a couple of times since I bought it in 2005. It replaced what was really nice china of my aunt’s that I had given to said daughter-in-law. This Christmas, everyone was here and we ate buffet/picnic style on the enclosed porch in our building and once again, I didn’t use that “good china” because there were far too many of us. We used disposable everything we could. The “good china” will not only be good, it will be pristine for my heirs. My mom’s good china had been my Grandmother Swanson’s and I thought it was far prettier than Grandma’s more expensive replacement. Mom used it all the time—carefully. She was much smarter than I seem to be. What a lovely journey down memory lane for me as I read of your mom’s good china. I also have a bottle of good Scotch my son gave me and I’m not sure why I am saving that, either. You are such a good thinker, Gretchen.

    • January 2, 2015 at 11:00 pm

      Next time I’m in town, I’ll help you out with that scotch. Thanks for checking out my blog, Merrie! I plan to post weekly by Wednesday noon. Hope you’ll come back to see if there’s anything else with which you can identify!

  7. Susan Norby
    January 3, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    Gretchen. What a gift of words you are sharing with us on this blog. As I mentioned in an earlier email, you write in “Living Technicolor”! You take us into each story with all its emotion and deliver a redeeming message of comfort and hope. Well done, good job, keep writing!! Susan

  8. sheila richards
    January 3, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    Hi Gretchen. Ted Fazer sent me your blog. Wonderful, indeed. Somehow Ted and I connected a few years ago as we find our lives criss crossing from time to time. He recibes a musng I write every Monday which I send as email to 150 or so in 27 states. Monday Morning Musing. Where are you? can you send me an email? I am retired from the appointed UM system…………living with Carlyle for 53 years……….writing and traveling and growing physically slower but still have all my marbles. We left our home of 45 years for a condo. No, we did NOT down size! I have space to keep all my dishes where I can get them….and I use them…..china and crystal for 18 in early December! My china is for 13 because my mother-n-law said a person had to have that extra setting in case a piece became broken. I have a lot of my mom’s Jewel-T and our daughter has her other grandmother’s Fiesta. I preached a sermon on eternal life one time…using the recipe box as the container of “eternal” life. It is also so…with the dishes. It is frightfully cold here tonight…wind chill is 31 below. I’d love to hear from you. Happy New Year.

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