My Mother’s China and Crystal

They went to Hawaii in 1959. My dad had a super-super-super secret job to do for the DOD. My mom didn’t like it there. She missed her kids and she didn’t like the climate. But it was only 3 months and she had her sewing machine. She made my little brother luau shirts and she made school dresses for me. I think my dad had imagined it as a honeymoon. I have no idea what it actually turned out to be for them. They came home on an ocean liner, the Orsova, a luxurious British ship. My mom loved that part, I know. She loved being invited to eat at the captain’s table. She liked being on the ocean.


In Hawaii, my dad bought my mom beautiful brocade fabrics from Japan, from which she made dresses. One of his co-workers, a young man from India, returned home and sent my mother a gorgeous wedding sari. Another colleague, from Japan, sent my mom an entire set of her favorite china — Noritake in the Bessie pattern. “This is for you someday,” she said to me as we opened it. I was seven. It was bewildering. The box in which it came finally ended up in the trash when I packed to move to Colorado last summer!


Noritake, “Bessie”

I didn’t like it. My taste was far more garish and colorful, but there it was. The “good china” which was brought out for holidays and set on a red tablecloth at Christmas along with the “crystal.” I thought the china was bland and cold, but the crystal I liked. It was baroque and looked like ice. My grandmother had the same pattern. “Someday you’ll have all the crystal. Mine and your grandmothers.” Well, OK, but I was still only 7.

When she had the chance to get another piece — a gravy boat! A salad bowl! She was actually happy and excited about it. In all honesty, I could never understand it, and these things never made her happy in the long term. This left me with a serious doubt about the usefulness of good china.

I left the “good china” behind in my house in San Diego as a wedding present for the kids who bought the house. I’d known the girl most of her life. She was the daughter of my next door neighbor. I accidentally left the silver-plate, too, including my baby-spoon, but maybe they had a baby?

The crystal was boxed up by professional movers in Montana in 1996 after my mom died and shipped to me. It’s here, in my garage, in the same boxes. Today, out of curiosity (since I don’t even have a dining room table and I’m not likely to have a big dinner in my house because of that) I looked on eBay to see what prices the crystal was getting.

A set of plain old glasses at Walmart is fetching about the same price as some sellers are asking — others are asking quite a bit more. I was stunned at the sheer quantity. I guess a lot of us had mothers who bought “good china” and “good crystal” for their daughters (and themselves). Maybe growing up in the depression made those things more interesting — Fostoria is a depression-era American crystal manufacturer. I could imagine my mom wishing she could have something like that someday. She sold the crystal at Bylund’s jewelry shop in Hardin, Montana where she worked while she was in high school and during summers when she was in college. Maybe she got to know these things when she went to Billings for college and worked as a housekeeper for a wealthy woman to earn room and board and “a little something for the folks.” I have the letters. Sometimes she was able to send them a dollar, not like today’s dollar, though. It was a useful amount of money back in 1942. And, they were very, very poor.

As I said, I like the crystal. Maybe if I had anywhere to put it, I’d open the boxes.


Fostoria “Navarre”


12 thoughts on “My Mother’s China and Crystal

  1. When my mother died, we found in her basement, carefully packed, her mother’s and her wedding china. It was awful, ugly as sin, and so outdated that only a collector would want it. I don’t remember what we did with it, but I was glad to see the end of it.My grandmother’s was green (can you imagine?) and my mother’s was the same design in pink. Now I know my mother was married in the northeast corner of Vermont in 1947, but that’s no excuse for such horrid stuff.

    The glassware went when we moved in 1963 from New Jersey to Massachusetts. Some of it I rather liked, but not the painted ones. They always looked as if someone had squashed a bug on them, and the only way to figure out which bug was by the color of its innards.

    I too do not have a dining rom table, and am never likely to entertain guests in my humble abode. But even if I were to have such company, I would not subject them to some of the horrors my grandmother and mother seemed to like. Is taste learned or inherited?

  2. I lost “the good china” when I left Israel. Actually, I lost everything. But then, I got more, and afterwards, gave it away. I finally realized I don’t even like “good china.” Good post, reminds me of my family. And the china.

    • I have a whole set of very pretty stoneware most of which I will never use. Crazy. But I was watching a documentary on very early British homes (I mean like stone age). And back then people were building shelves to display their dishes. Must be very deeply engrained….

  3. Me too! Shortly before my Mum died, we looked through her sideboard, where all the good china was kept. She told me which were her Mum’s, and which were her own wedding presents. In truth, I really didn’t like most of them- but I loved her Mum’s good china. In the end, I did a silly thing. I kept one cup, saucer and sideplate from most of the sets, and gave the rest to charity. I felt a little bad breaking up the sets, but knew that times had changed, and no one would be interested – we all prefer mugs! I kept my grandmother’s good dinner service as well, it’s packed up in a box, stored in the old stable – every summer it gets another layer of swallow guano. My favourite piece has turned out to be a sideplate of my grandmother’s; it has blue cornflowers. It is the smallest plate we have, so sits on top of the motley stack of others. This means it is used every day – and one of these days it will break.

    • Cornflowers! It must be beautiful. I think your choice is a good one. If I’d like my mom’s china, I might have done the same. My grandmother collected china tea-cups and she let me choose one long, long ago. It never gets used (too fragile and I don’t drink tea) but I’m glad it’s here.

  4. A friend of mine’s wife was obsessed with china; they wound up with two sets of expensive china. He told me “we’ve got two sets of china and were eating pork ‘n’ beans.

  5. Everyone has their own tastes and china is not for many folks. One needs a life style that is fitting for china. I don’t care for it either but I like old antique odds and ends to put in a glass cabinet just to admire the dishes. The crystal is beautiful and perhaps one day you can display that just to look at.

    I grew up on a farm with parents that worked extremely hard to pay for the land. My mother as finally was able to get a set of Fiesta and my sister has that. I don’t entertain either so I’ve no use for anything that matches other that cheap while hotel dishes that I’ve picked up at estate and garage sales.

    This is another interesting post.

    • Fiesta ware was our daily dishes when I was a kid. My aunt had Franciscan ware — two or three sets over the years. I wouldn’t mind having a plate of that just for old time’s sake. My grandmother (mom’s mom) had the best dishes ever. They were whatever she could get. When she set the table there were no matching plate, just a mis-matched riot of flowers. I loved it. I thought it made a beautiful table.

  6. Very interesting! There was a time I was mad on collecting good chinaware, and crystal. I had a whole wall display. With my husband death I gave away most. I have retained my wedding set of Noritake (given by my brother), and two more. I have Crystal cake stands, and dry fruit plate, and other such things.

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