Tradition never goes out of style.
When I was growing up, special occasions, birthdays, and holidays were usually spent at my Aunt Kay’s home. When it came close to dinner time, my cousins and I were called in to help set the table. We fell into our separate roles with ease. Susan would fill the glasses with ice, Brittany would lay out the beautiful linen placemats and folded napkins, and I would help with the silver.
I loved watching as Kay opened the mahogany silver chest with all the flatware gleaming against its velvet lining. I felt so special to be trusted to help with this part; it made me feel “grown up” which every girl loves. (Note, this feeling often went to my head and came out of my mouth, rightfully getting me into trouble with my mother on more than one occasion.)
Dorothy Draper, a doyenne of the interior design world, said,
“There seems to be within all of us an innate yearning to be lifted momentarily out of our own lives into the realm of charm and make believe.”
Those moments of laying out the silver and setting the table did that… and they still do. For those moments… for that dinner… we are lifted out of whatever life is currently challenging us with and into a world that has order and beauty.
Just as rooms should have a sense of history, so should your table. Even though I am many years removed from the little girl who helped my Aunt Kay with her silver, the innate yearning is still very much present. I love setting my table with my modern wedding china and the silver flatware on temporary loan from my mother, but the best part is adding the crystal glasses because they were my grandma’s.
Doris Wheeler wed James Evans, Jr. in 1935 in High Springs, Florida and they went on to have 3 children: James Evans III, Helen Kay, and Mary Elizabeth. Doris was known and loved by all for being a magnificent cook and for making her guests feel so special and so loved. Every time I set my table with her crystal glasses, Cambridge Rose Point from 1935, I feel like a part of her sweetness and her love is there with me. I think about how different the world was in 1935, about who loved her so much that they gave such a special wedding gift during the Depression, and about all the tables she lovingly set with her beautifully etched crystal.
Even though she is not here to sit at my table, in those moments, she is here and I am lifted momentarily out of this world.
The past and present table is magical. I didn’t know it as a little girl, but that silver of my Aunt Kay’s that I so loved, was given to her with so much love. Grandma’s very best friend growing up was Helen Ward Swisher. My mom says that she herself was a teenager before she realized that “Aunt Helen” wasn’t actually one of the Wheeler sisters. The two women, Doris and Helen, shared such a love and bond that Doris named her first born girl Helen Kay Evans, after her long time friend.
Beginning when my Aunt Kay was very young, “Aunt Helen” would give her a piece of silver for Christmas and her birthday. The pattern was “Enchantress” from the International Sterling Silver Company and was the same pattern that she herself owned.
I find no coincidence in the pattern name and the power of the present.
Even though I never got to meet “Aunt Helen,” her love is still here. It’s in the care and preparation with which Kay hosts occasions, it’s in her beautiful table our family gathers around to eat, and it’s in the “realm of charm and make believe” I was taken to each time Kay opened her silver chest and let me help her.
There is no better time than the holidays to set the past and present table because what it is REALLY all about is the feeling you get, whether you are setting the table or seated there. The past and present table is about the love that goes into it… and there is no better tradition than that.