Only the best will do when there's a preacher at her table.

By Valerie Fraser Luesse
Only the best will do when there are preachers at her table.
| Credit: Dale Rowe

My mother didn't come by her wedding china set the usual way. As a matter of fact, nothing about my parents' wedding was typical. High school sweethearts in the 1950s, they had been engaged for a while—no wedding date set—when Daddy was drafted and sent to basic training in South Carolina. Once the Army confirmed the dates for his upcoming 30-day leave, he called Mama and said, "I'm coming home in two weeks—let's get married!"

She wore a tea-length wedding dress that she bought off the rack at "the place where all the brides shopped," downtown Birmingham's New Ideal. There was no time to register for anything. Her wedding china was a gift from the shoe department at elegant Loveman's department store downtown, where my paternal grandmother worked. Granny's personal wedding gift was a set of International sterling in the Angelique pattern.

As for the dishes from Loveman's, we've never known the name of the delicate, feminine pattern—white background with a gold rim and clusters of pink and purple flowers—but it doesn't matter because, at an early age, I started calling Mama's china "The Revival Dishes." The nickname stuck. If you're Southern Baptist, you can guess where it came from.

All the Baptist churches in our rural Alabama community used to have summer revivals—special occasions back in the day. Revivals involved a week, sometimes two, of nightly services featuring a guest evangelist, (aka "the visiting preacher") and a guest music director ("the song leader"). Somebody had to feed them. In an operation as strategically coordinated as military maneuvers, the ladies of the church would take turns preparing elaborate suppers, not just for these guest ministers but also for our pastor, music director, and any wives who might be coming along.

Revival Dishes Place Setting
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| Credit: Kathy Elliott

Kathy Elliott

Mama always broke out The Revival Dishes for these occasions. She used them for big family gatherings, too, mostly because she didn't have enough everyday plates to feed all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins who came for the holidays. But that wasn't the issue when we fed the preachers. She had plenty of everyday dishes for them. But no. They got the china. Every. Single. Time. Also on deck: Her mother's lace tablecloth and coffee urn, and the Angelique sterling from Granny.

All of this finery was laid out in the farmhouse where we lived back then. It had vinyl flooring—no swanky hardwoods—and our furniture could best be described as "family friendly." Nothing fancy. The only room in the house that was big enough to hold Mama's ginormous "deep freeze" was the dining room. The chest-style freezer occupied a corner near the pie safe, and it became the dessert table during major get-togethers.

But my mother could turn that old dining room into a show place. The preachers and their wives were too busy eyeing her coconut cake, chocolate pie, and other desserts to care that they were displayed on a freezer. Our well-worn dining chairs spiffed right up when they had that lace tablecloth to cozy up to. And nothing compares to Mama's fried chicken, especially when it's served on a china plate with a gold rim around the edge.

My mother taught me so much about hospitality back then. When she broke out The Revival Dishes, the silver, and the lace, she wasn't trying to show off or pretend she was something that she wasn't. She was just giving her best to make other people feel special. And that's why, to this day, I won't hesitate to serve barbecue on my Lenox. Love you, Mama.

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