Yesterday, I fell into a Southern novel. I passed the July midday with bottomless glasses of iced tea, dressed salad greens, and fruit too ripe to need sweetening. Temps were already sweltering when I walked up the driveway, but inside, settled into deep chairs with a view of a shaded deck, we were coolly removed from Texas’s sizzling heat.
Instead of this writing group meeting at the usual restaurant, Lolisa offered her home for lunch. When she invited me, she asked me to bring the newly printed memoir that I edited for my father. They wanted to see someone else’s stories, collected, titled, and hardcover bound, proof that regular people can “publish” their ordinary family histories. Something I’ve pushed them to do since hearing their first efforts in our Memoir Writing class. Collected scraps and sheets of anecdotes become important enough to share with family when assembled into a real book.
Our hostess announced lunch but said she needed to read her piece before we moved to the dining room. Sharing our writings, what the group is all about, usually follows lunch. Her reason for her reading became apparent early in her story:
Uncle Burton, a Lt. Colonial in General Patton’s Tank Corp and … with Patton in the final push into Germany near the end of the war [was] stationed in Selb, one of the towns where Rosenthal china was made. My uncle was able to buy two complete sets of dishes. One set for his wife and one set for his sister, my mother. We eagerly waited for Mother’s set to come. They were off-white with a gold etched band, and I thought they were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
In my small West Texas hometown located ten miles from the corner with New Mexico, I don’t remember anyone having a grand set of dishes.*
She continued with how her mother used the dozen place settings, her “good” dishes, for special occasions Eventually, Lolisa, promoted to dishwasher for the demitasse cups and saucers because, she wrote, it was in pre-automatic dishwasher days. That set of china from German has now passed down to Lolisa. Her dishwasher stands ready, but she still hand washes them.
Even without knowing the story, we would have oohed and aahed over her table. Wide gold-banded dinner plates, teacups so delicate as to feel weightless set on a flowered cloth that seemed part of the garden centerpiece. From where I sat, my eyes kept going to decorative plates hung among watercolor paintings over the buffet. Also gold banded, centered with flowers, they looked custom coordinated to the china. I asked but Lolisa said, “No,” she had the decorative plates long before inheriting Mother’s china.
Perhaps she will add a page to her story, telling where and how she acquired the wall hangings. Someday another generation will have that to tell when hosting a summer luncheon.
Besides my show and tell with The Book, as Lolisa called my dad’s memoir, we had reason to celebrate. The newest member is a finalist at the upcoming Mayborn Nonfiction Literary Conference. Her first conference, her first entry, and she hit a home run.
We’re sure we all heard Mona’s shout when she received the congratulatory email at 10:47 Tuesday evening. She phoned me Wednesday morning still gasping and giggling between near tears. That’s what hearing you’ve written something that is judged a success does to a writer. At least neophyte ones. I wonder how many times Nicholas Sparks, or Hemingway for that matter, heard, “We want to publish it,” before either treated the announcement like another day at the office. Family matters prevented Mona’s joining the lunch group, so we toasted her success in her absence, each of us recalling portions of the story she submitted.
Adding to the glee over Mona’s success, Pat announcedthat her Beghtel Berries tales is at the publisher. Good news can be shared anywhere, but it seems even more special in a setting of fine china with tinkling crystal accompanying the chatter of friends who support and encourage one another’s efforts. And perhaps, that storybook setting sent us all home inspired to further writing efforts.
* Laenger, Lolisa, “The Good Dishes.”