Saturday, March 7, 2020

Refelctions on "Theology of Home" (#3): Setting the Table with Blue-and-White Transferware

Sometimes, I have an interior battle over THINGS.

I mean, I know that we're not supposed to love things--clothes, electronics, jewelry, household furnishings, knicknacks--too much, because they are of this world.  And as the saying goes regarding all the material possessions we accumulate in our relatively short lives here on earth, when our time comes to meet our Maker and begin our eternal lives (hopefully with Him!)--"You can't take it with you!"  None of it will be the least bit important in the hereafter.  Most of our stuff, quite honestly, will end up at Goodwill after our children have taken the few items they might actually want for their own households.

I know this, I do; and I want to become completely detached when it comes to things.  I want to give up any and all feelings of attachment I feel toward the "have to have's" that I've been collecting over the course of my 60-plus years on the planet.  I'm not there yet, and I dearly hope I'll get there in time.  But I'm working on it.  For instance, I popped into TJ Maxx yesterday and during the 20 minutes I was in the store I picked up four or five different decorative items that caught my fancy and then talked myself out of them and put them back.

They had the sweetest little porcelain candy bowls, with little bunnies perched on the side, some of them frozen in the act of climbing in.  I picked up two of these bowls, thinking that when my family comes for Easter brunch, one would hold chocolate eggs and the other jelly beans.  After all, they were only $4.99 apiece!  Why shouldn't I get them?  Then I paused and thought of all the pretty candy bowls I already have at home.  (None of them have climbing bunny rabbits on them, but they will certainly do for holding Easter candy!)  And I put those adorable little bowls back on the shelf.

Lest you think I'm bragging about my ability to walk away from the home décor aisle of TJ Maxx with nothing in my shopping cart, I have to be completely honest: I'm still thinking about those bowls, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that I'll be heading back to the store soon, hoping that there are still some left.

As I said, I battle.  Sometimes I win, but often I lose.

One of my biggest weaknesses over the years has been for blue-and-white transferware dishes made in England.  My love affair with blue-and-white started back in the early 90's, when my mother-in-law (who loved dishes and tableware like nobody's business) gave me 10 dinner plates she'd gotten years earlier at of all places the grocery store, which was running a special (spend X amount of dollars and get a plate for X).  These plates purchased by Mom for a mere pittance, emblazoned with a Colonial-era scene depicting Independence Hall, are now a collector's item.

My mother-in-law got me started with 10 of these beauties.

I was hooked.  And I started keeping my eyes open for inexpensive blue-and-white pieces to add to my collection at places like TJ Maxx and thrift stores.

Over the course of a few years, I found 15 of these at TJ Maxx, each for between $3.50 and $5.
I LOVE that they depict Ireland's Blarney Castle!

More TJ Maxx treasures, collected for a few dollars apiece over a number of years.  I think it's
fun mixing and matching the different patterns.

A thrift store find.

Some years ago, I was able to accompany my husband on a working trip to Amsterdam. 
So when I found this platter with its quaint Dutch scene at a second-hand store, it was hard
to resist.  (And I didn't resist!)

I feel like blue-and-white always looks good, no matter what the occasion.  At Thanksgiving, I add orange napkins; at Christmas, I use red and green.  I so enjoy setting my dining room table with these well-loved dishes.  They are just so pretty, but also so durable and affordable.  (And I know I have a lot of plates!  But we have a lot of people in our family now!  So they are getting used.  Often.)

Not all of my blue-and-white transferware makes it onto the table; some of it is for decoration only.  We are a Notre Dame family, so when I found a transferware plate dedicated to that beautiful campus on eBay, I had to have it.  My baby sister knows about my obsession, so when she and her husband were visiting Jefferson's Monticello, she got me a souvenir plate from the gift shop.  We live in VA now, so this iconic image has even more meaning for me.  These two very special plates hang on one of the walls of our dining room.

Just when I thought I had better put the kibosh on collecting blue-and-white china--I mean how much does one gal need?--my husband surprised me this past Christmas with possibly the coolest platter in existence.

It appears to have a typical Blue Willow pattern, but look closely...

BTW: This is not a sponsored post; but if you're interested in blue-and-white dishes with
all kinds of whimsical creatures on them, check out

My husband got just the reaction he'd hoped for when I opened the box and oohed and aahed about how pretty the platter was--but then laughed and exclaimed with delight a few seconds later when I realized it had DINOSAURS on it!  It totally took me by surprise.

That guy knows me, that's for sure.  Our boys were absolutely obsessed with dinosaurs when they were little fellas (actually, they kind of still are!).  To have found a platter that combines blue-and-white transferware with images of those prehistoric beasts is to have found the perfect blend of beauty and whimsy--both of which make my heart extremely happy.

Should dishes make me happy?  Maybe not; after all, they are just things.  But maybe the reason they do make me happy is that, for me, they are so much more than just plates, cups, and platters.  They symbolize hospitality, because I use them whenever we have guests for dinner.  They symbolize serving my family whenever we gather for special occasions.  They symbolize holidays spent together with my favorite people on earth.  It is not necessarily sinful to find joy in the things we use to set a beautiful table, as long as we don't make an idol of them.

I love this quote from page 121 of Theology of Home: "A life seeking God above all else is a reflection of a deeper, more profound order within the soul, an order that frees us of distraction and attachment so that we might strive with constancy for God.  In giving us a desire to live beautifully--in the humble garden clippings adorning our tables, in items arranged on a shelf with care and consideration--even in these quiet ways, he invites us to closely participate in his very essence which is beauty itself. (Emphasis added with italics is mine.  And I would add to the part about garden clippings and items on a shelf, "in the setting of a table with blue-and-white dishes.")

On that same page of the book, the great C.S. Lewis is quoted: "These things--the beauty, the memory of our own past--are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited." 

And that right there is the theme running through Theology of Home: we create earthly homes with as much comfort, beauty, light, warmth, peace, and security within their walls as we can, and we do this to make of them a foretaste of our final home in Heaven, the home for which we are always yearning ("the country we have never visited," as Lewis calls it), whether we are aware of it or not.

When I set my table with my beloved blue-and-white, it is not really the dishes themselves that I love.  They are beautiful, indeed, and just looking at them fills me with pleasure.  But what really makes them so special to me is what I am reminded of when I see them: memories of the times that our family or friends have been gathered at our table, talking and laughing and sharing a meal.  I hope that when our children and grandchildren look at them, they have that same association.

I have just one more reference from Theology of Home before I wrap this up: on page 84, the authors quote J.R.R. Tolkein: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

Perhaps there are worse things to collect, after all, than the blue-and-white transferware dishes that have graced our table for so many food-filled, cheer-filled celebrations over the years.  I hope they have made it a merrier world for the most important people in my life--a world that is not only merrier but also gives them a glimpse of what the next one will be like, when they're back home with God.

My dear late mother-in-law had 8 kids and 32 grandkids; we have 5 kids and 16 grandkids (so far).  I wonder if the desire to amass a huge collection of dishes kind of goes along with the territory when your family is so big...just a thought.  (Or a justification?  LOL)

Happy weekend, dear readers!  I hope yours is filled with food, cheer, and song!