Christmas dinner in Boston was a mighty affair!
Grandparents, aunts and uncles, a bunch of cousins—even a few great-uncles (one in particular who was a lawyer; he was slightly on the shady side and smoked little cigarettes—my grandmother ran around after him holding a tiny silver tray just in case he wavered, spilled his ash).
I remember dressing up: little white socks with scalloped top edges and what we used to call Mary Jane shoes—black patent leather with a strap over the instep – dreadful things, but fancy enough for small children (they were named for Buster Brown’s sweetheart in the old comic series!).
I had a crinoline and a taffeta dress, too – it itched like fury, but it was gorgeous – it changed color whenever the fabric moved. I was fascinated by that color-changing bit.
I had a matching ribbon for a headband.
The dining room had two big windows along the outside wall; on the inside wall, opposite the windows, there were two doors into the hallway. There was a pantry, too, off one end—a magical space full of various sets of china; dinner plates and luncheon plates and butter and dessert plates; cups and bowls; drawers of silver (all wrapped in maroon or gray flannel protectors); all manner and kind of table accessories!
The table itself?
A centerpiece, of course; candles and place settings: Two forks (salad fork, dinner fork), two knives (salad and meat) and a couple of spoons (teaspoon, soup spoon). (“Work from the outside in,” my mother coached us.)
Sometimes a desert fork and spoon placed horizontally above the dinner plate, one pointing left, one pointing right.
Little bread plate to the left, with a bread knife across; silver salts with blue glass insides and tiny little spoons—oh, how I loved those tiny silver spoons; I imagined little people scooping salt from them.
And the biggest napkins I’d ever seen – blazing white, with my grandmother’s initials in the corner (VMH); not a stain on them, although I can’t imagine how that happened—probably due to Annie Sagan’s hard work in the laundry room downstairs.
And the glassware!
Crystal wine glasses with a tapered rim, a shaped stem and full bowl, with cut starburst and ivy pattern…after dinner my father would set all the glasses in a row, wet his finger and run it around the rims of the bowls, make the glassware sing!
It was magic to me back then; it is magic to me now.