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Grandma Jennie’s china dishes up family memories

Dish owned by reader Howard Lev of East

Dish owned by reader Howard Lev of East Meadow. Credit: Howard Lev

More than 27 years ago, my wife and I received a china set as an engagement gift. In the beginning, with a service for eight, we always had enough plates, bowls, cups and saucers, even for guests. Then a bowl broke before my mother-in-law was due to come for dinner.

Being slightly neurotic and wanting everyone to have a complete place setting, I took my grandma Jennie’s fine china out of storage in the basement.

Grandma’s pre-dishwasher-era dishes, more than 80 years old, were as beautiful as I remembered. They are white with scalloped edges and a petite floral pattern. When my mother-in-law admired them, it made me smile.

As I set the table, I noticed that they were numbered on the bottom and carried the imprint of “HMS Royal Hanover Bavarian Germany, Dresden.” When I was a boy in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, my mother displayed them in a cabinet with glass doors and used them for special occasions. For those meals, I would ask my mom to use a linen tablecloth, linen napkins and candlesticks. I felt like we were royalty.

Grandma’s dishes brought back memories of all the dishware my family used when I was growing up.

We had a another “set” exclusively for Passover. It mixed different pieces that had belonged to my paternal and maternal grandparents. There were so many different pieces, I do not think more than four or five matched. To this day, I do not remember what they all looked like. The eight days of Passover require dishes, utensils and cookware that do not come in contact with chametz, any food made of grain, flour or yeast. At seder, nobody seemed to mind that nothing matched, because there were enough bowls and plates filled with matzo ball soup, brisket and all the trimmings.

We also had “company” dishes that my parents used only when guests came. On the bottom was the imprint Fruit Festival. I didn’t mind being in charge of setting the table, washing the dishes and putting them back in the cabinet, because everything matched. I am not sure why, but food tasted better on these dishes.

In the 1960s, our family’s everyday set included my favorite, Duz dishes. They were white with a golden-wheat leaf pattern. Every box of Duz detergent came with a cup, plate, saucer or other piece. It was better than the toy surprise in a box of Cracker Jack.

Mealtime represented quality time when my parents and I would talk about our days. Each of the sets represents part of my family history.

My own family still uses grandma Jennie’s dishes for special occasions. We’ll set the table with them today for Rosh Hashana.

For everyday use, our dishes with the Tulip Time label are supplemented with a set of Martha Stewart white ceramic bowls I bought on sale. I still use three serving platters from each of the various sets from when I was a boy. They are all that remain of those collections, except the cherished memories.

Reader Howard Lev lives in East Meadow.