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Blue Willow
Granddaddy's stories and Grandma's plates

January 13, 2007

My grandfather had an invasive vine growing up the side of his shed in Southern Maryland that had small blue berries on it. He called it the china vine. Once I asked him why it was called the china vine and he told me because it was the color of my grandmother's china. I was very young then and somehow believed that whoever made up universal names for plants must have known my grandmother, and had seen her plates. True, those berries were the very color of Grandma's blue willow and for all I knew, she was the only one who had plates that color, as I had never seen them at anyone else's house.

Grandmas had bought all of her blue willow plates second hand at the Hughesville auction as she had her silver ware, glasses and much of her furniture. Some was junk and some was nice, but all items were presentable.

Granddaddy told us the story of the people on the blue willow plates, where a young Chinese girl fell in love with her wealthy father's gardener. Her father already had someone picked out for her to marry, who was old and decrepit but also very rich. The Chinese girl and her lover decided to flee the rich father's house (pictured on the right of the plate) and sail off to an island where they were secretly married (their two small cottages are seen on the boat being steered towards their island of happiness). The father sent out 3 henchmen (seen crossing the bridge carrying their weapons) to hunt down and kill the young lovers. But before the killers caught up to them, the gods turned the lovers into turtle doves (seen at the top of the plate above the willow tree) and they flew away.

In 1988 when I was twenty-nine years old and finally had enough money to buy new dishes, I bought an entire set of blue willow for my family to use every day. Today, twenty years later I still use the blue willow and will continue to use it until I die. It gives me great comfort and reminds me of time spent with my grandparents at their St. Mary's home on the Patuxent River with the whole Granados clan . We always ate off of Grandma's blue willow and she generally heated the plates in the oven before serving dinner.

For reasons not to be detailed in this post, I have few fond memories of being a child. The same is true for my brothers and sister. My mother suffered a great tragedy early in her life and my father was absent. Her depression and other hardships left us with a cold home and little attention. But the void left by our lack of a happy home was filled exponentially by our Grandparents and their home on the river.

The minute we passed into St. Mary's County knowing our grandparent's home was near, our anticipation became unbearable. The final approach to their house was going down the "turtle road" where Maryland snapping turtles and terrapins were often seen sauntering across. At the last curve about 1/4 mile from their house, we'd get the first glimpse of the Patuxent River with its waves lapping up against the bulkhead in front of Town Creek Marina (then called "Aubrey's") and the Seven Gables Hotel.

Lui and Anne Granados were married for sixty-five years when Lui died at the age of 88. He was a Spanish immigrant and she the Mayor's daughter. They raised six during the Depression and WWII in Riverdale, the same small Maryland town where my grandmother was born. They lived there well into their sixties until Granddaddy retired. Shortly after his retirement they finished building their dream house on the water in St. Mary's County, named the house after their home-town Riverdale and moved there permanently.


Their six children (my mother, Anita is the second oldest in the striped dress below) spawned thirty children between them. Being a part of the Granados clan is an indescribable blessing. A sixth generation has been born and there are more than 500 of us today. Nothing can replace the memories I have of spending summers with my cousins, endless hours on the beach, the smell of steamed crabs, watching the oyster boats coming in from the Bay, chilly evenings fishing on the pier with my brothers and uncles, and crabbing in the morning before the sun came up. There was always room for one or two more in the car, around the table, in the boat - whatever.

Whatever I missed at home, I found double at my grandparents, and those blessings that most take for granted are magnified in my memory as priceless experiences, treasured and remembered. I miss my grandmother terribly and think of her almost every day ... the smell of her cooking, the hard crusted bread and Spanish salad dressing, the way she set her old oak dining room table with a table cloth and napkins crunched up with antique silver napkin rings she bought at the auction with random initials of the previous owners engraved. I miss her putting us to bed and saying our prayers with us. I often slept in the childhood bed of my mother under a large picture window that overlooked the river. In the summer we'd fall asleep to sound of the waves lapping on the shore and the occasional hum of a boat in the channel.

My grandfather, though often grumpy (who wouldn't be with 10 to 30 kids running around) never neglected to hug and kiss us when we visited and always had a story. Though his version of the blue willow legend had some errors and the proper name for the vine in his yard was a "porcelain vine" not china vine, he never failed to entertain us and burn his words and stories into our memories.

My daughter recently told me it was time to get some new plates, as some of the blue willow were chipped and we'd had them for years. The thought of getting rid of them made me shudder. I don't know if life at Grandma's was so good - or if it just seemed so good because life at home was so bad. In some small way perhaps I identified with the young Chinese girl on the plate being sacrificed by her parent over trivial fluff that mattered little in life when considering love and happiness as worthy goals to strive for. There were many times I sat at my window wishing I could sail away to grandma's house and be safe and loved, where life seemed normal, consistent, and I was always welcome. The plates remind me of that place in my childhood.

I'm nearly fifty now and I have five grandchildren of my own. We don't live on the river, but within a few miles of several rivers and the Tangier Sound. I have a porcelain vine growing up the pillars of my front porch and I serve my family and friends on blue willow dishes year round, which is just one way I find myself attempting to duplicate my grandmother's life.

I often pray to Grandma, as I believe she's a saint in heaven now. I ask her to pray that I can be for my grandchildren what she was for me.

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