There are certain visuals that I remember with fondness and a still-strong admiration for my mother, nearly 19 years after her death. My mother, Marjorie Philona Condon, was the epitome of a multi-tasker. She had seven children in 15 years. The first baby was born nine months after my parents’ wedding. She always said the Rosary beads of my super-Catholic Irish aunts went into overdrive during those months, praying the baby wouldn’t arrive early.
Another baby, my mother’s second, did not live beyond her first hour of life. The tragedy was as sharply painful for my parents decades after the death of baby Mary Katherine Condon as it was the day it happened. How do I know this? One night, when I was about 10, my mom, dad and I went to a play at the Hanna Theater. I noticed early on, before the play even started, that my mother was really upset all of a sudden. She whispered to my dad. He turned white, then beet red. He too started fidgeting and frowning, in a super-charged way beyond his normal ADHD behavior.
As soon as intermission started, my parents bundled up all the coats and rushed out of the theater. I was really confused. I asked why. All my mother could mutter was that she had spotted her former doctor in the audience. I found out years later that the doctor was the one who delivered Mary Katherine. Right or wrong, my parents still blamed him for their loss.
When her youngest (me!) started kindergarten, my mom transitioned from a stay-at-home mom to a working mom, an anomaly at the time. She went back to college and added a bachelor’s in education to her bachelor’s in journalism. Her job teaching the fourth grade in Cleveland paid for all six Condon children’s college educations. When I graduated from The Ohio State University, she retired and took up such activities as skiing, ceramics and crocheting afghans.
What triggered my thinking of my mom recently? I was setting the table for dinner. Normally, I hate to admit this, but I usually pull out the paper plates. It’s just easier to toss the dirty stuff into the trash than loading the dishwasher and then — dang it — having to UNLOAD the stupid thing. But for whatever reason, I decided to go “fancy” and pull out the real dishes.
They were my mom’s … the ubiquitous dark blue Currier and Ives dishes that you can find in pretty much any antiques store or flea market stand. I’ve always loved them. Those dishes, reflecting our solidly middle-class status, were “giveaways” from grocery stores. Royal China Co. made the then-immensely popular collection for several decades. They came in multiple colors and scenes, among them “The Birthplace of Washington,” “Early Winter,” “Low Water in the Mississippi” and “The Old Grist Mill,” the pattern I have. There weren’t many plates left by the time I bought a house and started nesting, so I supplemented them, thanks to a friend finding boxes of them in her basement.
I think, but I’m not sure, that suddenly these plates are cool. Retro in an old-fashioned look at the 1960s. I saw tons of them, and all the accoutrements, in half a dozen antiques malls in Holmes County. They cost an astounding $10 a plate!
To me, they are priceless. When I am gone and my children are divvying up our stuff, my guess is that my son will want these plates. My daughter is less sentimental and more pragmatic. Maybe I’m wrong, though. There could be a Currier and Ives war.
Marjorie and I will be smiling from Heaven. We are alike. And always will be.
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