As some of my faithful blog readers know, my story includes Lillie and Kate uncovering a china cup that belongs to both their families. Over the process of writing Half-Truths, I've played with different china patterns. My friend and writing mentor, Joyce Hostetter, suggested the popular Blue Willow pattern. When I posted this picture on Facebook, several friends commented about their grandmothers' collections.
Becky Levine and Joyce chimed in that I really needed to read the book, Blue Willow, which they remembered from their own childhoods. After reading it I realized I'd found a book which both girls would have enjoyed and a story that could provide rich subtext for Half-Truths.
Winner of the Newbery Honor in 1941, Blue Willow recounts the story of a family shaped by the Great Depression. Ten-year-old Janey Larkin longs for a permanent home for herself and for her most beloved possession, a blue willow china plate that belonged to her great-great grandmother. Her father is an itinerant farm worker who struggles to support Janey and her step-mother. When the family moves from one farm to another, the plate goes with them but stays packed away. "…never, Mrs. Larkin had declared long ago, would it be put out as a household ornament until they had a decent home in which to display it. In the meantime it was kept sadly tucked away, a reminder of happier days before its owners had become wanderers in search of a livelihood." (p. 23)
Because the plate had belonged to Janey's mother, it had become a part of her memories that were mixed up with "Mother Goose rhymes and gay laughter and a home of their own. And because the willow plate had once been a part of all this, it had seemed actually to become these things to Janey. It was the hub of her universe, a sold rock in the midst of shifting sands." (p.23)
Fast forward twenty years, and like Janey, Lillie is enthralled with the story depicted in the blue willow pattern. Here will be my readers first introduction to the china in Chapter 1:
I tackle the breakfast dishes, washing and stacking them so they dry nice. I take special care with Big Momma’s china cup. There’s a chip along the rim and I don’t know how many times my grandmother has glued the handle back on. Daddy teases her that he’s going to get her a new cup for her birthday, but she says her coffee won’t taste right coming out of any other cup. She never lets anybody else drink out of that cup neither. The way she prizes it, you’d think a boyfriend gave it to her.
I rinse and wipe the cup dry, tracing my finger around the blue doves flying over the pagoda. When I was little, Big Momma told me the legend of the young Chinese lovers who were turned into doves when they eloped against the girl’s Daddy’s wishes. This was one of Big Momma’s favorite stories. Mine too. A girl loving a boy when her Daddy didn’t think he was good enough for his daughter? You can’t get more romantic than that!
Maggie pulls out crumpled sheets of yellowed newspaper and throws them on the floor. I start to gather up the paper but then stop. Maggie holds up a blue-patterned tea pot for us to admire. I gasp and put my hand over my mouth. But it’s too late. The girls look at me questioningly.
“What’s the matter, Lillian?” Maggie ask. “You look like you seen a ghost!”
“It’s Blue Willow,” I blurt out. “Big Momma’s got a cup just like it at. The pictures on it tell an old Chinese love story.”
“Ain’t that something!” Maggie pulls out a creamer, sugar bowl, and two cups. Who would have figured that Grandmother and Big Momma would have the same tea cup?”
Miss Anna Kate looks from me to the china and back to me again. “It’s just like the china in the book.” Her voice is slow and thoughtful.
“You mean Blue Willow?” I ask.
“It was my favorite book in fifth grade,” Miss Anna Kate gets a faraway look in her eyes as if she’s recollecting the story. “You read it?”
I nod. “I love the part when Janey pays the rent with the plate so they can stay in their shack…”
Miss Anna Kate interrupts me, “…but then in the end, finds it on the mantle in their new home.”
“What are y’all talking about?” Maggie’s crosses her arms across her chest and looks perturbed.
I shrug. “Just a book.”
Miss Anna Kate corrects me. “Just the best book ever."
We smile at each other. I’m surprised we’ve got something in common. But I gotta admit, it feels good.
Blue Willow china: generations old.
Facebook friends: generations new.