Purchase collections of Elizabeth Hudson's columns at ourstatestore.com. My grandmother used her blue willow plates every day, for meatloaf and field peas, for pork chops and fried okra, but at
Purchase collections of Elizabeth Hudson’s columns at ourstatestore.com.
My grandmother used her blue willow plates every day, for meatloaf and field peas, for pork chops and fried okra, but at Thanksgiving, she pulled out the special dishes — her W. Dalton china in Sincerity 318, white with a thin platinum band around the rim — from the bottom drawer of the sideboard in the dining room, where otherwise the dishes stayed covered up with an old towel all year. The large platter for the turkey; the gravy boat for the gravy; the serving bowls for the candied yams, for the green beans; the delicate cups and saucers for black coffee poured from the percolator; the seven-inch dessert plates for the pecan pie, the pumpkin pie, the sweet potato pie, the white wine cake, the persimmon pudding.
So much food! My grandmother cooked for three days, starting on Tuesday with a pan of biscuits for the dressing, which needed a few days to stale up. Then she moved on to the pies, which stayed covered in foil on the table on the back porch. It took all day on Wednesday for the sides: the mashed potatoes, the creamed corn, the baked apples, the broccoli casserole, the squash casserole. She rose early Thursday morning to get the turkey in the oven and, finally, to make that dressing.
This was the Thanksgiving I loved so much, a house so full with people, plates so full with food.
When my grandmother died 22 years ago, my mother took over the Thanksgiving meal, following those same steps. Now there are only a few of us to eat all this food, but she still pulls out the pottery that she and my dad collected so many years ago. The brown-glazed J.B. Cole pieces from Seagrove for her green beans, for her turkey, for her squares of that dressing.
I think about how much my dad loved her dressing, how he’d sneak a piece after she pulled the pan out of the oven, how we loaded up our plates in the kitchen and carried them, two-handed, to the table, how we’d sop up everything with a fresh pan of biscuits, the thing that started this three-day cooking fest in the first place. Everything comes full circle, and I think about my own china cabinet, which now holds my grandmother’s Sincerity china, the entire set, and about how, maybe one day, I’ll get to pull it all out for a feast of my own.
As the years tick by, I think about the ways we fill our bowls, the ways we fill our lives when the people who were once part of our celebrations aren’t there anymore.
Last year, on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, I went to First Baptist Church in Greensboro for the annual Feast of Caring event hosted by Greensboro Urban Ministry. The way it worked was that you paid $25 for admission and got to select a handmade bowl that had been donated by a North Carolina potter. Then you went upstairs for a spread of food — 16 soups! — and I know those volunteers surely had been cooking for days.
Hundreds of people were there, and although I didn’t know anyone when I arrived, I left having talked to several tables of folks, all of us wishing each other a happy Thanksgiving, all of us with our new bowls in hand, all of us grateful for the chance to have them filled.
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