Third grade brought the onset of birthday parties. It seemed everyone in my class was having one. . Oh, now that I’m trying to recall the details of that year, maybe none of the boys had parties. But all of the girls were thoroughly captivated by the idea and participated or planned with equal commitment. I soon realized that my birthday came right at the end of the school year. A bad thing; I’d have to wait. A good thing: I could borrow ideas and explain them to my mother in terms she could understand.
She just didn’t “get” a lot of the things that seemed crystal clear to me. I had one pair of shoes in third grade. Brown. With Buckles. Brown so they wouldn’t get so dirty and with buckles so shoe strings wouldn’t have to be replaced. Every Sunday morning, my dad would take our shoes and polish them for church. Although I would feel very clean and dressed up, I had my heart set on a pair of black patent shoes. Mom turned a deaf ear. Not practical and not necessary. Those were the guidelines.
I had a lot of work to do when it came to getting a birthday party. The school year went by. I won the school Spelling Bee and went to the state finals; I was chosen to participate in a series of radio programs and was given a lot of attention at school, but at home my parents were quietly proud of me. “Pride goeth before a fall” It didn’t change our economic position or the guidelines (practical/necessary).
The time was approaching for my birthday, spelled * P A R T Y. *
Mom had finally agreed that I could have some friends over after school that day(she didn’t call it a party) but I had to tell them not to bring presents She didn’t want to financially impose on their families. Ok Ok, Mom, but there needs to be a cake, and there needs to be paper birthday napkins, there needs to be balloons, there needs to be games.
We walked home from school that day. A select group of five plus myself. We walked past all of their houses, and some of them ran inside to drop off stuff so they wouldn’t have to carry it.. My mom would probably be wondering where we were and why it was taking so long. We got to my house and I started to open the front door; hmmm, it was locked. Well, we never lock the back door,. Just stay here and I’ll run around and let you in. I went through the back porch and there was a sense of quiet about the house, I opened the back door to the house and felt the wrongness of the afternoon. The blinds were closed in the front rooms and as I hurried through the kitchen, I saw the dirty breakfast dishes in the sink. The dining room table did have a cake. Whew. I hurriedly pulled the blind strings on my way to the front door and carefully left the door open so the “closed up” smell of the house would go away.
Where was Mom? Well, we could play games. I had prepared several game components on shoebox cardboard but suddenly, they didn’t look very "partyish". One of my friends asked the question I had asked while I was putting together the games, what are the prizes? In my most confident voice, I repeated the answer I had been given, we are playing for the fun of playing.
Where is my Mom? Oh, yeah, I think it’s Missionary Society day at the church. Once a month, all the ladies go and piece quilts or roll bandages or pack clothes for children in other places who live sad, little lives, and my mom never misses the meeting. She’ll be home any time, now, though.
We are all hungry and so we decide to just move to the cake phase of the afternoon. A whole new set of problems. I had seen the dishes in the sink. That means there aren’t six clean plates or glasses. Oh, no, I didn’t see any kind of drink to put in glasses. I’ll think of that after I solve the glass problem. It was very trendy in the fifties to have “snack sets” for ladies' get-togethers. They were composed of a rectangular glass plate/tray with a ridge of glass in one corner that kept a petite glass cup from sliding around the plate/try. The tray was just the size to show off the dessert, like, like A PIECE OF CAKE. God and my mom only know why we only had six glasses, six plates and two coffee cups (from the Goodwill store), but EIGHT snack sets. They were on the top shelf of the cupboard in the kitchen, but I was a determined little girl and could climb up there and get them down. Not only was my problem solved, but it was solved with a flair (and my heart always rejoiced in flair). In getting down the snack sets, I felt that they were a little sticky. Oh, no, not a little sticky, quite a bit sticky as only dishes in the kitchen that haven’t been used can get sticky. Where is the dishtowel?
Please, all of my friends, just stay in the living room, and I’ll be out in a minute. I would rather they notice the unpolished state of that room than notice that it isn’t practical or necessary to buy dishtowels. Not when everyone is wearing three yards of material gathered onto a waistband and when it is too faded or if it gets torn, just rip it up into the appropriate sizes—hem it if you have time or use it in its ravelly state if you don’t. The dishtowel that day was a skirt I had worn to school all the last year,(ravelly) and certain to be recognized.
Here, I must interrupt my narrative with a household hint. Do not attempt to wipe off that greasy residue with a dry cloth, especially if the dishes are clear glass with a raised design. It simply won’t work.
And so, I was faced with several obstacles to just washing those dishes which I certainly could have done because I started learning when I was three. The first thing, sinks weren’t divided in those days and ours was full of dirty dishes (as you may remember me mentioning previously); second, there wasn’t enough time; and third and most insurmountable, the last time my very best friend had come over, there were no clean glasses and I started to wash one. It wasn’t practical or necessary to buy both clothes soap and dish soap and so we only had clothes soap. I took the box from under the sink and gave it a shake sufficient to dispense an adequate amount of soap, and what came out were coffee grounds. Before recycling was a buzzword, my mom recycled everything. But how was I to know that the box had transitioned from soap container to trash sack? That same friend was in the next room, but she might exercise her best friend’s right and come in the kitchen at any second to “help” me. The risk of a repeat mortification was too great. No washing.
Oh, I remember going to my great-grandmother’s house and loving the looks of a smoked glass set of glasses that she had. They had stems and I would even drink buttermilk to get the privilege of using them. So, I would put water in those cute little petite cups, cake on the tray and make a subtle comment about having smoked glass.
I found some birthday candles in the cupboard next to the snack sets. They were probably there to keep them and us safe. Them, because you shouldn’t squander the whole box on one birthday; simply put a representative number on and save the rest.) But, oh well, desperate times call for desperate measures and so I put those candles(not 9, but the contents of the box) on my cake and lit them and we were as safe as a group of nine year olds without supervision can be. Alas, my mother had not considered birthday paper napkins practical or necessary, either. No inspiration or substitution hit my brain, and so I just ignored the fact. We were all so hungry by this time, that we disposed of the cake without leaving a lot of crumbs on plate or mouth.
Oh, no, Everyone was ready to go home, but I was reluctant for my special day to end, and so I decided to walk home with the group. The routine was to walk the furthest one all the way home and then she walked halfway back and so on until, with much meandering, everyone finally was dispersed.
When I got home, my mom was back. She told me that if I wasn’t going to be there when she got home, she would appreciate it if I would leave a note. And also, young lady, never get the snack sets out of the cupboard without help; they’re for the ladies missionary society meeting when they come here.
Posted by The Editor for Gigi.
Note from The Editor: When my grandmother (Gigi's mother) was de-cluttering her house and passing things on to her granddaughters, my sister and I had the choice of the punch bowl or these pretty little snack plates. I chose the pretty little snack plates, because they were retro 50's, frou-frou girly, and I thought they would be handy for all the socials I would someday hostess. I have actually never used them. I tried once to get them out for serving cake and cookies at the holiday, but I couldn't get rid of the sticky on the scalloped edge.