In my basement there is a cardboard box filled to the brim with Blue Willow china. Place settings for ALMOST sixteen are wrapped in newspapers dated September 13, 1995 … almost two weeks to the day after Mom passed away.
Now before you stop reading, thinking “here comes a depressing piece, written by a down-in-the-dumps writer”, I need to tell you that this is anything BUT a depressing piece, and I am anything BUT down in the dumps.
This little tale begins around fifty years ago in 1966 when I was a mere six years old.
We, meaning my Mom, my Dad, and myself, were wrapping that Blue Willow china for our move from Macon to Savannah, Georgia. Dad was unpacking the china cabinet and handing the beautiful blue plates to me and mother, and we would wrap them in newspaper and stack them in a cardboard box. At the time, there were sixteen place settings along with assorted matching bowls, pitchers, and tea-sets. Mom was desperately proud of that Blue Willow set, because she had saved up Octagon Soap coupons and ordered the entire set through the mail.
I know this because every time we used that china, Mom would regale us in how she purchased that Octagon Soap for everyone she knew, just so she could earn enough coupons for the set. In other words, if you had a birthday coming up, more than likely you would get a bar of soap … well, a bar of soap along with a half of a pound cake or maybe a coconut cake.
Mom would tell this story with a lot of pride, and when she got to the part where she sent off the “bulging packet of Octagon Soap coupons“, she would ALWAYS be laughing at the idea that she bought soap every week for nearly two years, just to get that set of Blue Willow china. My Aunt Ruth would chime in, “The people at that grocery store must have thought you lived with the filthiest bunch of people!”
It was was her favorite “hard times” story to tell, and truthfully, I loved hearing it even though I didn’t have a CLUE what Octagon Soap was.
So anyway, there we were … wrapping her china, when Dad suggested that he and Mom have a cup of coffee. They vanished into the kitchen and I was left at the dining room table wrapping plates.
Don’t ask me how it happened … what strange event happened to cause the Earth to shift and yank the plate from my hand … I haven’t a clue.
But whatever it was that happened in that split second turned me from a cherub into an outlaw.
When I looked down and realized that the plate was broken almost perfectly in half, my heart plummeted like an elevator down to my toes. Since Mom and Dad were in the kitchen, I did what any normal six year old would do … I wrapped both pieces in a piece of newspaper, smuggled it down the hall to my bedroom and stuffed it between the mattress and the boxed springs.
Fast forward five more moves and it’s the late 70’s. I’m nineteen years old and Mom was unpacking her Blue Willow dishes and the one she had JUST unwrapped magically fell perfectly into two pieces in her hand. She looked at the plate as if she were wondering what strange event had caused the earth to shift and break one of her plates perfectly in half.
It was then that I spilled my guts, and since it was years and years later (and Mom hadn’t even missed the stupid plate), we both shared a good laugh until we had tears streaming down our cheeks.
So where, you might ask, had the Blue Willow plate been all that time?
Well, after unsuccessfully gluing it back together with school paste, I decided to bury the thing in the back yard once we were moved into our new house in Savannah. However, the ground was so hard, I could barely dig a hole big enough to bury a pecan, much less two broken halves of a Blue Willow plate. So, I hid it in the garage in a box of my toys I no longer played with.
During the NEXT move (when talk of a yard sale put the fear of God in me), I decided to try once again to hide the evidence by burying it in the only soft spot in our back yard. Almost a dozen months later a torrential rainstorm washed the dirt from around the buried plate (I was the only kid alive who routinely watched rain in a terrified horror), so I had to bring it back in and hide it once again. It stayed hidden in my Barbie Doll case until 1976.
I was sixteen and a glorious invention called Super Glue saved my life.
Late one night I covertly glued the plate back together and let it dry in the back of my closet. Several days later, at long last, it was slipped back into the china cabinet when no one was looking.
For thirteen long years that stupid broken plate had followed me around. It had been buried, hidden, smuggled, glued, and stuffed into a Barbie doll case. It had made my life a living nightmare at every dinner Mom decided to use the “good china”. I held my breath during every move, and once when the box of china slipped out of Dads hands and hit the corner of the table, I PRAYED for a few broken pieces! I surmised that maybe I could somehow slip that stupid broken plate into the box before anyone “outed” the missing one. No such luck. Everything survived.
I was bound for hell.
So, today the box of Blue Willow china is in the basement. On the very top of the stack of plates is a wrapped plate that is very clearly broken exactly in half. On the back, there is a tell-tale line of dirt mixed with school glue from one of my many attempts at repairing the plate … a plate that no longer “haunts” me, but rather comes along for the ride as I tell MY kids the story of that plate …
… that stupid blue willow plate that Mom got with Octagon Soap coupons.
4 thoughts on “How My Career as a Child Outlaw Began …”
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Wonderful story. My mom always had Johnson Borthers Athena as her daily dishes and I have used the blue Willow for the last 20 plus years. I don’t know who needs a 16 place setting, but if you ever want to replace the plate, make sure you get one made before 2003. That is when the owners of Wedgwood shipped the production out of England to China and the coloring and shape of the newer plates are different. They stopped making Johnson Brothers in 2015. 😦
Thank you for that, Joe! I’ve toyed with the idea of replacing it, but if I did, I’d still have to hang on to this thing! haha I found one a few years ago at a tag sale and nearly bought it, but I wasn’t sure of the pattern and the blue color seemed to be darker than mine. Glad I passed it up.
I am comparing the English made stuff from the 90’s or maybe 80’s to the post 2003 plates of which I have two place settings. The older ones still say “microwave and dishwasher safe” and I am sure that your mom’s don’t. 😀 I seem to recall that my mom’s old 1960’s Athena pattern might have looked a bit different than replacement pieces she got later that were still made in England, but not radically different. The Chinese made Willow is paler and lacks the detail of the English stuff. The easiest way to tell them apart is that the English dinner plates are more deeply bowled and the blue clearly looks darker even before you examine the painting more closely. Maybe the later English pieces were darker the the older ones. But, like I said, who needs 16 placer setting? 😉