My mother spent over half her salary on a set of dishes

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

When my mother was in her early twenties, she fell in love with a set of fine china. It was called the Willow pattern, which is a popular pattern known as Blue Willow in the United States.

My mother knew she couldn't afford the pretty plates with their blue and white pattern depicting a pair of doves over a country scene, but she couldn't get them out of her head. One day, she visited the local five and ten store and found a Blue Willow china set on sale for $29.95.

My mother made $34 per week working a full-time job at a jewelry shop. That $29.95 price tag was nearly her entire paycheck.

As she was about to leave the store without her dishes, she saw a clerk change the price on the shelf from $29.95 to $19.95. My mother's heart soared. It was a sign. She would finally have her Blue Willow china set.

Sure, $19.95 still represented more than half of her weekly salary, but she loved that Blue Willow pattern. She went home without it once again, but she couldn't sleep that night just thinking about those dishes and what a lovely gift to herself they would be.

The following day, she went to the store after work to buy the six-setting dinnerware set of her dreams. There were six saucers, six teacups, six dinner plates, six dessert plates, six soup bowls, one creamer, one sugar bowl, one platter, and one soup tureen.

Dishes are heavy. So you can only imagine how heavy the box containing all of those pieces would be, but my mother didn't care how heavy it was. She only cared about getting them home safely on the city bus.

Her younger sister was with her, but her sister, as usual, was a lot of fun but little help. Whenever my mother looked hopefully at her sister, pleading for help with her eyes, her sister stared back with an expression that let my mother know her sister thought she had lost all common sense.

According to my mother, she would have carted her precious dishes through a fire or a flood to get them home safely. By the time she dragged them home, she felt exhausted, but she wasn't too tired to open her box of dishes and examine each one before putting them away in the cupboard.

When I was growing up, my family used that Blue Willow china set on holidays. Every Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and Easter, my mother brought her precious plates down from the highest cupboard shelves and proudly displayed them on the dinner table to serve their purpose until the next holiday.

From Easter to Thanksgiving was the longest stretch of time between uses, but after I turned twenty, we stopped using them at all. As I sit writing this at the kitchen table, the dishes sit in a cupboard behind me. All but one are present and accounted for after nearly sixty years.

Here is the origin of the romantic fable depicted on the Willow pattern, according to Wikipedia.

Once there was a wealthy Mandarin who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father's humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father. (It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class.) He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.
On the eve of the daughter's wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke's ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves.

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