Hardcover with jacket
Living in those three rooms behind my father’s small variety store—a precursor to 7–11—was an embarrassment to me as a teenager. My friends had real houses with dining rooms and pretty dishes; we ate from chipped plates around a table in the store. At a young age, I longed for the better things of life and took every opportunity to advance myself.
One day, I read an ad in the paper for a free cooking demonstration put on by the gas company. They would show us how to prepare an entire meal and give us the recipes.
I convinced my mother to go with me to the Paramount Theater, where a teacher wearing a waitress-type uniform showed us how to create a dinner featuring a crown roast of pork garnished with pink pears. She told us that our local butcher would be happy to tie a loin of pork into a circle for us. To make pink pears we had only to put a drop of red food coloring into an open can of pear halves. By the time the roast was done, the pears would be pink.
The thought of such a lavish dinner presentation was so exciting that I talked all the way home about the steps of preparation. Mother, lacking my enthusiasm, let me know she was just along for the ride. My first problem arose with the butcher, who, never having made a crown roast, questioned me. “What are you trying to do, go fancy on us?” I insisted he could tie a loin into a circle. After grumbling a bit more, he accepted the possibility and began to rope the pork together.
I held my finger on the knots so he could tie the twine tightly, and by the time he finished the crown, so much string was wrapped around it that it looked as if it were in bandages. The butcher, although pleased with his artwork, admonished me, “Don’t keep coming in here with more crazy ideas.” When I told him I needed “panties” to decorate the top of each rib, he laughed, apparently picturing my undies atop the roast. From then on he informed his customers, “The Chapman girl is putting on airs.”
I called the gas company to find out where I could buy “panties,” and they said they’d give me the leftovers if I’d come get them. I did.
When I arrived back home, I followed the recipe card, stuffed the center of the crown, and put it in the oven to roast. Now I needed a “presentation plate,” because the teacher had said that placing this creation on something ordinary would ruin the whole effect. My mother wouldn’t let us use anything really good, as we were saving the few things we had for some better day. I begged her to unlock the china cabinet and let me remove a large royal blue plate I had always admired.
The pork roasted perfectly, the pears dyed effortlessly in the can, and the little pink frilled panties stood elegantly on top of each rib. Displayed on the big blue plate, the crown roast of pork was the most beautiful presentation I had ever seen. My father carried it around the store to show the customers what his smart little girl had created. They all gasped in amazement as he exclaimed, “This really is a Blue Plate Special.” Some asked, “What are those funny paper ruffles for?” and I, in my newfound culinary wisdom, explained that all crown roasts wear little panties for trim. That’s what makes them special!
As I look back on a childhood of meatloaf and Spam, that meal still stands out in my mind as the one time we rose above the ordinary. In contrast, Fred was brought up with meals served by a maid. So when I married him, he expected me to be a gourmet cook and replace the maid. I worked hard at new recipes and even preheated the plates as he instructed. Then one day I remembered the blue plate. The next time I visited my mother, I asked if I could have the special dish. “That old blue plate?” she asked. “Oh, I gave that away to Cousin Elizabeth. It matched her dishes.” Gave it away? Gave my plate away? I couldn’t believe my mother would do that to me. “You’ll have to get it back from her. Ask her for it back,” I pleaded. My mother never wanted to cause trouble for anyone, so although she agreed to ask, she wouldn’t push. Gratefully, Cousin Elizabeth didn’t care that much, and I got the blue plate back.
In my years of marriage, I’ve made few crown roasts of pork, but I have the plate for it whenever I do. When I told this story to some friends recently, I took the old blue plate out of the cabinet. As I looked down at it, I felt a tug at my heart and suddenly could hardly talk. Why? I felt the pride of that little girl with the drab childhood who produced one culinary triumph: the crown roast decorated with rosy pear halves and adorned with the pink panties, sitting on the bright blue plate. I could see it all again.
I’ve eaten better meals since then, and I own more impressive plates. But I’ll always hold on to that special blue plate, for it represents how hard I tried to rise above my ordinary circumstances. Do you have a memorable blue plate, a cherished goblet, or a favorite spoon? Display it. Talk about it. Pass the story on. Don’t let the sweet memories die.
As a child I had very few treasures—a Shirley Temple doll, a few Nancy Drew mystery books, and the blue plate. Due to the Depression, there was no money for extras, and because we lived in such cramped quarters, there was no space to save anything. But what we lacked in tangible collectibles, we made up for with an underlying faith in God and two types of talent: words and music.
My father, Walter Chapman, was born in England. Shortly after his family came to America, his mother died in childbirth. The baby she was delivering died as well. My father had to leave school to care for his young brother while their father, a harness salesman, traveled New England. Although Dad worked in a grocery store from age sixteen on, his lack of education did not stop him from learning. He helped his brother with his schoolwork, and he read whatever books he could obtain. He inherited his father’s “gift of gab” and sense of humor.
As my brothers and I grew up, Dad amused us with funny tales of his childhood and taught us rhymes and pithy sayings with big words. One we can say in unison to this day is “People who live in transparent domiciles should refrain from hurling geological specimens promiscuously.” Before we went to first grade, we had to memorize a response to give the teacher in case we couldn’t answer a question: “Not knowing to any degree of accuracy, I dare not assert for fear of erring therein.”
We memorized Bible verses, and all of us recited them in church. We were in all the pageants and excelled at everything to do with words, acting, and humor. In spite of our family’s lack of money, we had an exciting childhood with a constant audience of customers willing to listen to our newest recitations.
Because of our inherited talent and Dad’s consistent encouragement, we all became speakers of one sort or another. I taught English and speech at the high school and college levels, Jim became a chaplain, colonel in the US Air Force and is still a minister in Ohio. Ron, a radio DJ since he was sixteen, recently retired with much fanfare as the top radio personality in Dallas history. How grateful we are for a father who cared enough to pass on his love of the English language to three eager children who took his instruction to heart and have established a family legacy of learning.
Have we passed this passion along to others? Both of my daughters are articulate speakers and writers. Lauren has three sons to pass her talent to and Marita trains potential speakers and authors through our CLASSeminars.
Jim’s six children all have master’s degrees, two are ordained ministers, and two have PhDs. Ron’s daughter has been a radio personality since college.
Think about your family for a minute. Has there been a thread of talent throughout the generations, some special skill that has been passed down? Has this ability been noticed and encouraged? While our dad shared his love of words, our mother passed on her musical ability. Born in Canada, she was raised in Massachusetts in a family that was centered around church music. The seven children all took music lessons and formed their own ensemble. Sadie was a church organist and well-known piano teacher; my mother, Katie, taught violin and cello; and Annie wrote the words to their compositions. Ruth and Jean played the violin, and Bill and Donald accompanied them on their cornets. In honor of the MacDougall musicians, I display in my living room my mother’s first violin and her cello. The old hymnal Aunt Sadie used as she directed the church choir graces my piano.
How has this musical ability passed down to those of us still living today? Aunt Jean’s son, Edward, has a master’s degree in church music and is being honored this fall for his forty years as minister of music at First Church of Christ of Farmington, Connecticut. In college, my brother Jim played the leading role in many operettas. He now combines his preaching with singing and reading the symphonic poetry he has written. Ron played the trumpet in the Haverhill High School band and has an exceptional singing and speaking voice.
Although I was not a soloist, I used my musical talent to direct musical comedies in the high school where I taught and later in professional community theater productions. My daughter Lauren and her husband, Randy, are both singers in their church’s choir and the local community chorus. Classical music plays in their home, and their three sons are all professional musicians.
Are talents passed down from one generation to another? Do certain families have similar professions and occupations? What about your ancestors and your children? Is there any connection between them or transfer of abilities and interests taking place?
This book is not a biography of my life but a presentation of creative ideas, many of which have been experienced in our family. My daughters, Lauren and Marita, and I have been preparing for this book for several years. We eagerly encourage you to consciously pass on your talents, possessions, and passions to your family members and to teach others to collect significant artifacts and to share their ideas. With families scattered around the world these days, it is more important than ever to unite our families in faith, in words, and by establishing a living legacy that will last through many future generations.
Make each one of your blue plates special!