Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reflections on the Table, 1: Setting the Table

I learned to set a table from a book called The Non-Com’s Guide. I almost thought I had imagined it but Google did come up with three hits, one a citation in a militaria forum (for collectors of military stuff) and two ratings in French for someone who sold a copy on eBay a while back. No listing in WorldCat or Bookfinder. As I recall the book was a paperback and surely fell apart or was discarded somewhere along the way.

Either of my parents could surely have showed me how to set the table, but I’m sure they already knew me well enough by the time I was 7 or 8 to know that learning things from books was my preferred method. It worked – to this day I feel compelled to rearrange the silverware at a restaurant or church supper if it’s not set out correctly.

It’s rather curious to me that The Non-Com’s Guide (a compendium of information thought to be useful to non-commissioned officers, i.e. sergeants, in the U. S. Army) felt it necessary and advisable to alert its readers on proper table setting. I’m actually not too surprised that there may have been plenty of sergeants who came from backgrounds where such niceties were not observed, but in the 1950s, I don’t think most men expected to be required to know how to set a table.

With what did I set the table? At some point I suppose Capri silverwe must have had stainless steel forks, knives and spoons, but I can’t remember any of them. What I do remember are the two sets of silverplate, still in the family, that we had when I was growing up. The first one, which was somewhat battered and missing pieces even when I started tablesetting, was this one, 1881 Rogers Bros. Capri. I did not know its name until several years ago and always thought the pattern was one of pine trees, but now I think it’s supposed to suggest waves. By making use of online auctions I was able to fill out the service for eight and give it to one of my nieces a few years ago.

The second set, which I still have, is called First Love, by 1847 Rogers Bros., and was their best-selling pattern for many years. Here’s a picture because I’m too lazy to get the camera and go photograph my own:

first love silver

This pattern had a nice heaviness to it. It is a bit more ornate than I would choose for myself, probably, but I cherish it because it was my mother’s and the silverware we used on many occasions.

I wish I could show you a picture of the everyday dishes we had growing up. They were Melmac – I think either Texasware or Boontonware. Before Corelle, Melmac was the miracle dishware for 50s families with children who might break other, more fragile dishes. It was virtually indestructible and for all I know one of my siblings may still have a cup or saucer from the set. The thing that stands out about my family dishes is the color scheme. Some Melmac was white or cream with a pattern such as roses or wheat, but ours was resolutely solid colored, half in a very dark green and half in a deep dusty rose. The green stood the test of time better than the rose, considering my parents’ love of coffee, which tended to stain the rose cups. I never asked about it, but I think this was a very modern choice for my mother to have made.

I could go on about table setting and probably will, but it’s late and I’m very tired after a day at the church fair selling books.


Vicki Lane said...

The Non Com's guide sounds familiar. When my husband was in the Marines (only four years) I remember reading a book for service wives that suggested things like organdy curtains in the kitchen and the way that wives should act on various occasion . . . it was quite quaint.

My husband was a lowly enlisted man and I was a teacher on the base -- effectively, I outranked him -- could go to the officers' club. And our best friends were another teacher and her husband -- an officer. It was a bit tricky, socializing with them-- almost like having an affair.

Mary Beth said...

I learned to set the table at home...but also as part of a Girl Scout hospitality badge.

Mompriest said...

I have no idea where I learned to set a table...wonder if I set it correctly according to the Non Com?