When I was a kid, I adopted a third set of grandparents. Not that my two biological pairs weren’t adequate. In fact, I liked my grandparents a lot, so I’m sure I figured, why stick with just two?
Here’s how it happened. My cousin, Carol, lived in Virginia. But her mother was from Lancaster, so the family made long summer-time visits to the Lancaster farm where Carol’s mom (my aunt) grew up. This was Carol’s and my chance to play together, and so I’d go to the farm for several-day stretches.
Carol called these two older people “Grandpa” and “Grandma,” so I tried it, too. They answered—and treated me like one of their own. It was that simple, bless their generous hearts.
Grandma’s kitchen and dining area were places of wonder. I loved to sit on the side of the table that gave me a full view of Grandma’s china cupboard. I remember bunches of great glass grapes suspended in one section. Gorgeously painted plates and pitchers held my eye, too. These images are as vivid to me as the coffee ice cream Grandma served us as evening came, as well as the three-legged brass bowl that held Tootsie Rolls on the sideboard.
I hadn’t thought about these lovely dishes until I read about Carol’s parents’ recent 70th wedding anniversary celebration.
The news story that caught my attention said that there was “a small family dinner, using the same menu, china, crystal, silver, and linens from seven decades ago.”
What a slam-bang idea. What a perfect little-party thing to do for two still-sharp but aging people.
Right away I was in touch with Carol to find out who had had the forethought to save all this stuff—plus know where to find it after many years and house-moves.
Turns out that Carol inherited those dishes that told stories to me when I sat at my Third Grandma’s table as a kid.
“I also inherited a lot of Grandma’s linens and silverware,” she told me. “But get this—my parents and grandparents lived through the Depression, so they hadn’t bought these things. Instead, the Limoges dishes had been bought by my great-grandparents, and then passed down. So for the anniversary dinner, we served the creamed chicken in pastry shells on these four-generation-old treasures.
“And the fresh iced mint tea went into hand-cut crystal glasses that my great-grandfather gave to my mom as a wedding gift.
“Not only that, we were able to find a tablecloth that was a wedding gift to my parents.”
Carol and her husband, Robert (whose photos are part of this blog), hosted this sweet event in their historic house in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, along with Carol’s brother, Don, and his wife, Manon.
“We weren’t that rigid about serving the exact menu and recipes that my folks had at their wedding reception. Our meal ended up being a mix of those dishes, plus some from our generation.
“The day of the celebration Manon and I dashed through the farmers market choosing fresh vegetables and mint. Robert cleaned up our clutter in the dining room and living room; I tidied up the rest of the house and set the table. Manon, who is French Canadian, whipped up the meal. She is one of those amazing cooks who efficiently puts things together using her signature touches of herbs and spices. So from Manon we got a new take on our heritage of simple Pennsylvania farm cooking.
“My parents didn’t know what we were up to, because all week I was asking Mom questions about the specifics of their wedding day. From there on, we used our imaginations. During the meal and afterwards, our parents sat in our living room, recalling the events of their wedding day, still as much in love as they had been 70 years ago.
“For days afterwards, every time I talked to Mom, she would say how wonderful the evening was and how much joy it gave her and Dad. Since that evening, I try to use the special china whenever we have them to our house to eat.
Four busy people put on a quiet little event that they, and the two guests of honor, are still talking about gratefully. It took some mindfulness and some clearing of schedules, but it didn’t require tons of money or weeks of planning. Sometimes little parties are best.
Especially when you’re celebrating deep and abiding love, which my cousin, Don, highlighted in his toast that evening: “Your marriage has been a wonderfully secure base that has given both your children and grandchildren a wonderful heritage of love and acceptance.”
If you’d like to pull out your slow cooker and make Creamed Chicken, here’s a quick and easy recipe—whether you’re celebrating a special moment, or feeding your family on an ordinary day!
Creamy Chicken a la King
Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook: 1400 Best Slow-Cooker Recipes!, page 351
Makes 4 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 4½ -6½ hours
Ideal Slow Cooker Size: 4-quart
10¾ -oz. can cream of chicken soup
3 Tbsp. flour
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
dash cayenne pepper
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, uncooked and cut in pieces
1 rib celery, chopped
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
¼ cup chopped onions
9-oz. bag frozen peas, thawed
1. Combine soup, flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper in slow cooker.
2. Stir in chicken, celery, green pepper, and onion.
3. Cover. Cook on Low 4-6 hours.
4. Stir in peas.
5. Cover. Cook 30 minutes longer.
6. Serve in pastry cups or over rice, waffles, or toast.