From the time they can walk and talk, every little Southern girl dreams about her big day. She'll wear a beautiful, flowing and fluffy dress...ooh and maybe even white gloves! Her hair will be done up in curls and her shoes will sparkle magically as she walks on air. She will be serene and graceful and dripping [tastefully] in jewelry. Her audience Will. Be. In. Awe.
Ah yes...the day she gets to pick out her china, crystal and silverware patterns.
Oh, don't get me wrong--Princess Belle will still dream of Prince Charming waiting at the end of the aisle, blinding tiaras and golden coaches being pulled by unicorns. We're still frilly little girls, but we're frilly Southern girls and that means we know how to prioritize.
Right after we learn to say, please, thank you, ma'am and sir, we are taught that you do not touch touch Mama's good china unless you have express permission to set the Thanksgiving table. The only possible exception would apply in the very rare instance of the house being on fire or blown away in a hurricane where you are the only hope of salvation (and even then, you need to think long and hard on the matter).
When I was little and a wedding rolled around, Mom would haul us all to Belk so that she could get a wedding present for the happy couple. Back in the day, every bride was registered at Belk—it wasn’t even a question. As I think on it now, I find myself wondering what would have happened back then if a bride pulled a stunner and didn't register at Belk. The world might very well have stopped turning.
I realize that a non-optional errand of that nature could easily spell boredom to the elementary school crowd. Trust me, when I spent a couple of summers working in that very department, I confess to getting the hives from the games of tag played by bored children among the shelves and stands displaying their delicate wares.
Regardless, when I was a wee little Belle, I had a fine time wandering around and looking at all of the beautiful china, crystal and silver. Of course, my tastes changed over the years. In the early days, I was drawn to what I can only describe as circus china (the more color the better) and crystal cut so much that it would blind a person if it caught a ray of sunlight. Snazzy! (Of course, I also thought that George Michael was the hottest manly man to ever prance across the MTV screen...we all eventually grow out of the illusions of our youth.) After I was about ten years old, I could immediately tell the name of the silver pattern and its manufacturer and my taste never changed on that front—I knew exactly what I wanted.
So, how seriously does a Southern Belle take her good table service? Let me tell you the story of two Belles:
Belle S and Belle B have known each other forever. Their families are so close that they think of each other more as relatives than friends. After a get together many years ago, Belle B discovered that Belle S always counted her silver when putting it up after use. The practice was more of a habit than anything else, but Belle B found it terribly amusing that "they couldn't be trusted" and it became a great source of family humor and dinnertime conversation for years to come.
As time passed and the children grew up and went to college, Belle S and Belle B’s families still got together whenever possible. This new phase of their lives brought visiting college friends to the table where old stories were told and new stories were made.
Of course, “The Silver Story” was told one night during a dinner at Belle B’s house. Belle S’s son brought a friend home from school and...you have to understand...he was from Arizona. Arizonians aren’t very familiar with our ways.
While the cheeky lad listened to the story with amusement, the seed of a more sinister idea sprouted to life in his head. Everyone was talking and eating and paying little attention to anything else, so the little scamp grabbed one of Belle B’s good silver forks and slipped it into Belle S’s purse.
When the dinner party was long over and all of the kids returned to the colleges from whence they came, Belle S found herself digging around in her purse and felt something...odd. She pulled it out and I doubt that anyone could properly covey the horror that ran over her from head to toe but, trust me, it was H-O-R-R-O-R when that pretty silver fork twinkled in the light. Never being one to turn tail and run at a time of trouble, Belle S took a fortifying breath and made The Phone Call.
All was well and laughter occurred and the Legend of the Silver Service received another chapter in its already lively history. Of course we jest, but there was a real and present danger in that Belle B once called the police with regard to her missing silver only to find out later that a well meaning friend helping clean up put it in the wrong place.
No, Southern Belles do not mess around with the “other” trinity: China, silver and crystal.
(***I would like to add the caveat that I may not have told the story exactly right, but just think of it as the names being changed to protect the guilty.)