My mum was a beautiful dressmaker. It was a necessity in the circumstances of life, but she enjoyed it so much that she studied pattern drafting and garment construction, and made clothes that were really an art form. Once her best friend sat behind us in Mass, and afterwards remarked that she had examined my twin brothers’ overcoats that Mum had made, and that she couldn’t see one single thing that was not perfect, and that no-one would know they were not bought from a big store. The ultimate compliment!
If that seems a long way from red and white crockery, be patient – there is a connection but it is deep below the surface.
One day, walking through David Jones, I saw beautiful crockery: it shone and beckoned to me, and I picked up one of the red and white pairs of spotted cups and saucers. These were not discreet – they were outrageous: bold red chunky dimpled china, covered in look-at-me white spots – not fine sprinkles, but plain round real spots. I bought a cup and saucer. Later that morning, feeling that was a bit mean, I bought another cup and saucer for my husband.
The following day, it seemed sensible to buy two side plates to go with them. The next week, it seemed a good idea to get more of each ‘in case somebody came’. Then breakfast bowls were necessary so we could take it all outside and eat breakfast at the outdoor table the family had bought us.
This crockery made me smile. I felt young and adventurous, and delighted in the colours and the feel of it in my hands. In spite of my rising doubts about the shallowness of my attachment to it, and a puzzlement about how different this was for me, every now and then I set out to visit David Jones again, until now we have a whole dinner set of it.
Last year, in desperation to try and shift the dreaded writers’ block that had me convinced that I was never going to write again, I joined a group of writers, hoping their imaginations might spark mine. I set myself the exercise of just writing about the everyday life things around me.
I wrote poems about my crockery: at first about its beauty and effervescence, but later about its gradual and inevitable demise through chips and knocks, cracks and drops. Of course my beautiful battered china spoke silently to a theme of my life at the time – grappling with the realization of entropy as an undeniable and fixed law of human and earth bound existence. I tried to outrun entropy by visiting DJ’s and shoring up the dinner set with replacements, until one day the lovely shop assistant said sadly, they only had it in yellow and green but NO MORE RED. I looked longingly at the sparkling yellow and white bowls, but took myself firmly in hand.
For those who have made it thus far, here is the connection I promised. One day last week, as I washed my friendly old dishes in front of the window on to my husband’s amazing garden, I was wondering why red and white polka dots had so engaged me. A memory came of a pair of little four and two year old girls on a tram in the city with their mother. Mum was tall, blonde and pretty, and was dressed in a red and white spotted dress. We were dressed to match, in the early post-war style: but our dresses were white with red spots, with gathered skirts and a tie bow at the back, and ruffles over the shoulders so that we called them our butterfly dresses. The light was shining on to the polished wooden tram seats and the brass trim, and we played at being grown ups, trying to catch hold of the overhead leather loops.
I ponder now such love, such effort at creating us a perfect life, such happiness from the hands and heart and wisdom and persistence of Mum. That love and that happiness has pervaded my life for the following sixty five years.
Red and white spots are not shallow.
They are very very deep.