Paper plates on Thanksgiving won't be so bad Tradition: The holiday meal moves back to the old homestead, where so many other happy holidays have been.

November 21, 1998|By Jacques Kelly

Three of my four sisters telephoned recently to render their decision: We will be using paper plates for Thanksgiving dinner.

The invitation list had expanded to 20 this year and they were in no mood to wash the china for a mob that size. Nor was I, so offered no resistance -- though I think they might have welcomed a verbal boxing match. After all, we are entering the season of gatherings. This is another way of saying the family storm clouds are forming fast and ominous.

There are a million Maalox moments before a holiday, two million if you really get anxious and micromanage the affair a month in advance.

In truth, while I hate paper plates indoors, I am delighted that the whole clan will be gathering once again at the Guilford Avenue house where so many Thanksgiving dinners have been served.

My great-grandparents moved there in 1915 with the same furniture that will be in use Thursday. Each year we say a little prayer that the glue in the dining room chairs holds.

And true to a 1915 house, there is no automatic dishwasher and the porcelain sink is older than I.

Two of my nieces, one named Kelly and the other Elizabeth, requested that the old location be the setting of the Thanksgiving feast.

For a few years after my mother's death, we shifted to my sister Mimi's home in Mayfield for an excellent and needed change. And now we're changing again -- after some negotiations worthy of the Wye River peace agreement.

The arrival of the family holidays can be fraught with blood-line peril. We fret over the details and overlook the substance. But no matter what way you look at it, a volley of phone calls before Thanksgiving Day is preferable to no phone calls at all. This year, the deliberations over the time of the actual meal lasted longer than the amount of time it takes to roast a turkey.

The first call came through a few weeks ago. My father, the master of the old family homestead, asked if my cleaning assistant, silver polisher and ironer, Susie Hobson, could give him a hand getting the Guilford Avenue house ready for the arrival of the guests and the overnight tenants: my sister Ann, her husband Chris, and three small children, including 9-month-old twin girls.

He said he needed about two hours' help. I thought to myself that 120 minutes doesn't divide well in a nine-room, three-story Baltimore rowhouse -- and we weren't even talking about long halls, stairs, baths, skylight, cellar, front lawn and back garden. The last time I counted, the place had 37 window openings too.

(I think it's one of the grand exercises in holiday madness to wash windows before one of these family gatherings, but plenty of people do it. Those with advanced degrees in Thanksgiving insanity even attempt painting too. As if guests checked window dirt and faded walls.)

After two cleaning sessions, with a third still planned, I hear that all is sanitary -- so clean in fact, my father has decided to go the extra mile.

We may be dining on paper, but those picnic plates will be resting atop Battenberg lace and linen: a proper, Hutzler Brothers linen tablecloth (with a complicated cutwork pattern) that he's asked be washed and ironed for the big dinner. He's also had all my great-grandmother's cut glass washed and set out.

Once polished, even alongside the paper plates, I'm sure the Stieff silver will look as fine as it did in 1905 -- if you overlook the dents of all the happy Thanksgiving dinners along the way.

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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