Dining with My Great Great Grandma

Patricia and her grandmother Elsie


Now that we are no longer renting our home – but the proud owners! – we finally unpacked some boxes that had gone untouched since we moved in more than two years ago. Two dusty boxes in the back of our garage held a sort of time capsule: vintage dishware owned by of few of my greats.

I called my grandma to inquire about these hidden treasures. She was so happy to reminisce! A set of etched glassware belonged to her mother, a lithe and fashionable woman named Harriet, but known to all as Gay.  She was a fashion model in her earlier years, and in my memory she always sashayed with grace and elegance. Back in the 80’s when I was little, Gay smoked cigarettes with a long filter, an accessory I assumed was the pinnacle of sophistication!

Baby Harriet

Harriet Rutherford - teenage fashion model

Gay with her little girl Patricia (my grandma)

A hand painted Limoges china set came from Gay’s mother, Elsie.  Elsie received it from her mother-in-law who lived in upper New York state. There on a large farm she raised her family of six boys, including Elsie’s husband (Gay’s father) Roy Rutherford. As my grandma talked about Elsie and Roy, she revealed a family secret: Roy had a sister who the family kept hidden from the world. Olive was epileptic, and in those days it was not a condition to talk about. Even though she lived in the attic until she “outed” herself, she went on to become the chief librarian in Rochester, New York. She was my grandma’s aunt, but my grandma only met her once. Were it not for the box of china, I never would have known this story!

Elsie (Ruddy) Rutherford


Circa 1910: Roy and Elsie Rutherford (on right)

Elsie Rutherford's Limoges china

Rather than let these heirlooms hide unnoticed for the next several decades, I made the decision to put the items to daily use. Yes, some will break (one already has!) and some will drift away (I can imagine a tea cup housing teenage Evie’s earrings someday). But, what is the point of saving it all only to never use it?! I’d rather give these old dishes a new life so we can remember the women who first owned them. And, I’d like to think these women would get a hoot out of seeing their great great great grandchildren happily using it all!

Gay's glassware

Gay’s set of iced tea glasses work wonderfully for morning parfaits. Homemade yogurt, chocolate granola, and homemade raspberry sauce taste so much better when served in a pretty antique!

And, late night peanut butter banana smoothies are an extra extra special treat when served with a memory of a great great grandmother they never knew.

And sometimes we use them for their original purpose: iced tea!

Snack time is memorable thanks to pretty the Limoges.  I’m pretty sure pineapple tastes sweeter thanks to dainty purple flowers.

And boring old graham crackers are anything but boring thanks to my Great Great Grandma Rutherford’s dishes.

No doubt, these dishes were a special part of so many family occasions that happened decades before I was born. To think of the Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries, normal weeknights…and to know that the women who used these fragile pieces are partly responsible for my very existence…it is a lot to consider and appreciate.

So much life is happening all around us all the time. It is all so fleeting and perfectly imperfect.  I hope my kids appreciate the everyday moments for what they are: moments in time, important and treasured, sacred and quiet.

Christmas 1956: Gay, unknown, Chet (Buddy), Sandy, Patricia, Elsie (Ruddy)



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3 Comments for this entry

  1. sheila says:

    Oh! So glad you are sharing these pics & stories! And YES use these relics they are no good stuffed in boxes! Your children are adorable & will thank you some day for showing them the finer things in life & how to take care of family heirlooms!

  2. Dee says:

    I have a few heirlooms also and it’s partly why I feel so cramped in our tiny apartment. Im inspired by your connecting with your ancestors through these beautiful objects. My friend advised me today, that finding and cooking a borscht recipe would be a way to keep the knowledge of my elders more alongside me rather than something I yearn for. There’s so many distractions and junk on the Internet. Thank you for posting something family centered and mother friendly.

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