It was spring of 1973. I pulled my Volkswagen Beetle into the driveway of Dr. and Mrs. Crabb where I worked as a mother’s helper and was surprised to see that Dr. Crabb was still home.
“H-m-m-m-m,” I thought. “I’m later than usual. He should already be at the office.”
He was leaving though, and as he backed his sports car out of the garage, he stopped long enough to roll down his window. He was grinning, his eyes alive with mischief.
“The cat–” he said. “That cat made a terrible mess in the dining room on the oriental rug. Could you please clean it up first thing?”
Oh, no! Not again. That stupid Siamese cat. One of a small herd of cats in the Crabb home, but the ruler of them all, and probably the one that was always peeing in the bean bag chair. The oldest Crabb son would go flying into the bean bag chair on his way to watch a favorite TV show and come up sputtering. And wet. And often disgruntled. Mrs. Crabb was so sick, fighting her last brave battle against the breast cancer that would take her life in another few months. She loved kids and animals and could never bear to turn anything away that was lonely or hurting or in need of care. The Siamese was the exception of the motley crew when it came to beauty and lineage. The rest were pretty much nondescript mixes of mongrel and feral that showed up at the door and were taken in and loved and given pretty much free reign in the stately house that was home to this family of six.
And now, another mess on the beautiful oriental rug in the formal dining room. And why was Dr. Crabb so happy about it??? Oh, well. I loved this family. I loved working for them. This animal business was the one draw back. I got myself together and entered the house. Mrs. Crabb was sitting at the table in the breakfast nook.
She looked up and said, “Oh, Mary Ann! There’s a mess –”
“I know. Dr. Crabb told me.”
She followed me with her disease impacted gait as I went through the little hallway to the formal dining room and there was no mess! Instead, the table was set like it was ready for a formal dinner for eight. The delighted eyes of Mrs. Crabb were beyond mischief. Pure unadulterated joy shown there.
“It’s your wedding present,” she breathed. “The silverware is your wedding gift. Dr. Crabb drove to Philly last night to pick it up so we could set the table for you to show it off. He wanted to see you when you saw it, that’s why he is late, but he couldn’t wait any longer.”
It was beautiful silverware. American Colonial, an expensive, heavy, beautiful stainless steel set that shown with a soft luster in the morning light. I was ecstatic. It was beyond my wildest dreams. Then Mrs. Crabb’s father, Mr. Martin, gave me a serving set for a wedding gift and the perfect set of silverware was mine.
Ten days before Daniel and I were married, Mrs. Crabb died. 36 years old, mother of four children, Jennifer, Colin, Jim and Mary. I mourned deeply, but I was getting married and moving to Ohio and life made such a drastic change for me. A good friend, Faith Cox (now Zencak) had taken over my spot as mother’s helper a few weeks before Fran’s death, and I left them in capable hands. My memories were so warm and good and even helpful as I remembered the things that Mrs. Crabb had taught me in her better times. And every time I set a “company table” with that gorgeous tableware, I would think of her and the wonderful gift that she gave me.
As time went on, I found that eight place settings just weren’t enough for a company table and I found a fairly nice set for sixteen at JCPenney’s one year on clearance and purchased it to use for guests. I loved the American Colonial, but when I priced it out, the cost was prohibitive, rising at one point to $100.00 a place setting. I never, ever thought of selling my set, but I knew that I couldn’t afford to add to it. Especially when the JCPenney one was doing just fine.
Then came the time a few years ago, when Middle Daughter began to peruse the internet in search of the replacements for some the pieces of my wedding china that have gotten broken. I wasn’t interested. I have been using plain white Corelleware, open stock, for quite some time. (Might even sell that china, to be honest.) Unknown to me, she was also looking for American Colonial silverware. When she came up with a service for twelve, reasonably priced with an offer to pay for some of it for a birthday gift, I was ecstatic. We were able to get it and with the eight I already had, I had service for 20 — the same number of Corelleware that I have in my china cupboard. This was one happy gal.
Last night we had company for an early Thanksgiving Dinner. Youngest Son and his Girl with a Beautiful Heart brought friends from Washington D.C. and Alexandria, VA to Delaware for some country time and for some home cooking. The day went well, and in late afternoon, Certain Man set the table for me while I finished up some food in the kitchen.
He spread out the long white tablecloth. It is literally over twenty-five years old. Years ago, Sister in Law, Ruby Yoder, gave me a long, long piece of lace and said it was for a tablecloth. Sister Sarah Slaubaugh bought me five yards of 60 inch wide, white, bottom-weight material and I sewed a tablecloth that was long enough to cover and hang down on all sides of the 13 foot family table that Certain Man’s father, Ralph Yutzy made almost 50 years ago for his family. This tablecloth has seen a LOT of living, but it is still beautiful. I wash it in hot water, bleach it when it seems necessary, and it just keeps on holding up. I don’t think I ever say, “Use the long white cloth” without thinking of my brave sister in law and her gift to me so many years ago.
And then he spread out the plates and tumblers and salad bowls. I looked down the long table and it was so full of happy memories. The tumblers were made possible through a beloved niece, Joni Geissinger, and her Pampered Chef business. Always looking out for me in sales and discounts, she helped me until I got 20 of these beautiful glasses. Actually there are 40, because they are mine in two sizes, both juice and large drinking size. They bring sparkle and light to a table, and I think of her and am so grateful. They are sturdy enough for a dishwasher, coming out crystal clear each time. The crystal salad bowls were gifts from another sister in law, Polly Heatwole Yoder, and I use them and use them and use them. Also, I am so grateful that there are 20 of them, as well. They come in so handy when there is a LOT of food and more than one salad, or the famous Delaware limas with lots of juice that demand a bowl of their own.
Then, looking down over the expanse of table, I mention that since there is an overwhelming amount of white, we will use Thanksgiving napkins. So Certain Man puts down colorful (flamboyant!) Thanksgiving napkins and carefully places the silverware at each setting. Fork on the left, knife and spoon lined up on the right.
And I think again, of Frances Crabb. She loved to cook. She liked having people over to her house when she was well enough to set a pretty table and make a great meal. She missed out on so much because of her illness and so did her family. But I like to think that there is a way where some of it gets passed on when there is a pretty table set at Shady Acres, when family and new friends and old friends gather round and enjoy time together, and eat off of a set of silverware that was given to a 19 year old bride who had no idea of its value. Nor did I know the value of the life lessons I learned as I watched Fran Crabb live the last two years of her life.
She’s been gone for over 41 years now. I still see Dr. Crabb on occasion, but I’ve lost track of the children. Jennifer, the oldest, passed away a year or two ago. I think that Frieda’s passing with the same insidious disease that took Mrs. Crabb has brought back memories from those two years that I haven’t thought about in a long time. And some of the memories make me – oh! So sad!
That is when it is time to bring out a long white tablecloth, set the table with memories, make some good food, invite some people over, and thank God for reminders of the happy times and the rich legacy I’ve been given.
My heart gives grateful praise.