To promote regular and
repeat attendance at movie theaters in the 1930s and 40s, a piece of
dinnerware was given with each admission. My fourteen-year-old mama and my
twenty-one-year-old daddy were newlyweds in 1940. After being married in the
middle of the night by a barefoot preacher at Dalton, Georgia, my mama, a
little sharecropper's daughter from Varnell, went with my daddy to his home
at Cleveland, Tennessee. My daddy had twenty-one dollars to his name. He
paid the preacher two dollars to perform the ceremony. My mama had
everything that she owned in the world in a brown paper poke, a dress, a
comb and a store bought toothbrush, as opposed to the frayed sweet gum twig
with which she usually brushed.
My Uncle Bo, my daddy's brother, had a 1934 Ford with a rumble seat. He and
my granddaddy attended the wedding. Uncle Bo and the preacher's wife were
the official witnesses though the preacher's wife, who had thrown a
housecoat over her nightgown, crocheted and cried throughout the ceremony.
My mama described her wedding night as a wrestling match. It was not the
last fight that my parents had.
My daddy and his brothers were carpenters. Chattanooga was a thriving
commercial and industrial center and work was good, so they all loaded up
and moved to the big city to make their fortunes. My daddy made twenty-five
cents an hour. He did not have a car. He and my mama rented a tiny two-room
house with peeling paint and cold running water and a bare light bulb
hanging down in each room. Neither of them had ever known such luxury.
My Uncle Bo picked up my daddy for work each day. Otherwise, my mama and my
daddy walked everywhere they went. One night each week they rode the city
bus to downtown Chattanooga to catch the latest motion picture straight from
Hollywood. They also each received, as an added bonus, a piece of dinnerware
as a gift from the management of the theater. Each week was different. They
never knew if they would receive a plate, a cup, a bowl, or a saucer. And
the patterns never matched from week to week.
But my mama did not care whether or not her dishes matched. She loved having
different colors and various patterns and designs to admire. She loved
playing house. My mama became attached to a particular plate that she
thought was especially beautiful. It had pink flowers on an off-white
background and my mama loved pink.
One night after supper my daddy was washing dishes and my mama was drying.
Mama's favorite plate slipped out of my daddy's soapy hands, but he caught
it before it hit the edge of the porcelain sink and no damage was done.
"You better not break my favorite plate," my mama warned him.
He began to clown around and pretend to let the plate slip from his hands to
annoy her. Suddenly, however, the plate actually did slip from his slick,
sudsy hands and fell into the floor and broke into tiny pieces. At first my
mama was speechless, but then she accused my daddy of breaking her favorite
plate on purpose. He assured her that it had been an accident but my mama
"How would you like it if I broke your favorite plate?" she cried
My daddy said later that he did not know that he had a favorite plate, but
mama picked up a plate that was yet to be washed and threw it in the floor.
My daddy looked at her a moment then without a word he picked up a bowl and
threw it in the floor. Mama picked up a saucer and threw it in the floor.
Daddy broke a saucer. Mama broke a cup. They broke up all the dirty dishes
then reached into the cabinet and broke up all the clean ones as well. That
accomplished, they broke up the jelly drinking glasses and the little green
bowls that came as premiums in oatmeal boxes, all without a word.
Not only did my mama lose her favorite plate that night but she also lost
every dish in the house, all her beautiful china from dish night. Each dish
had made her think of a movie that she and my daddy had seen. Movie night
was an extraordinary treat for a poor little country girl whose only
entertainment prior to her marriage had been listening to the Grand Old Opry
on Saturday night on a battery-operated radio.
With the dishes all gone, my mama and daddy had to clean up the china shards
and broken glass that literally covered the kitchen floor. By the time they
had cleaned up the mess, their tempers had cooled. My parents walked over to
my Aunt Essell and Uncle Bo's and borrowed two plates and two cups for
breakfast the next morning.
My oldest brother made his debut into the world shortly thereafter. By the
age of twenty-one my mama had given birth to five little babies. Movie night
became a thing of the past. My parents did not go to the movie together
again until they took their first granddaughter to see Walt Disney's
animated re-issue of Uncle Remus in Song of the South more than thirty years
But my mama always remembered Dish Night. She often recalled her favorite
plate and how beautiful it was. She always insisted that the plate that my
daddy broke was the prettiest plate that she had ever seen in her life. The
mention of Dish Night always brings to my mind, not free dinnerware, but my
young teen-age mama and daddy breaking all the dishes in the house. To me,
that was the real dish night.
JUDY LEE GREEN is currently compiling a collection of creative non-fiction.
A writer since the age of nine, she has published in numerous magazines,
trade journals and newspapers. She recently received awards in poetry and
essay at the 2004 Appalachian Writers Conference. The Tennessee Mountain
Writers awarded her second place in their 2004 essay competition. In 2003
she received first place in the Wilma Dykeman Award from the Appalachian
Writers Association. She is a member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance, the
Appalachian Writers Association and the Amen Southern Revelation Sisterhood,
a group dedicated to writing memoir/creative non-fiction. Email Judy Lee at
Judy Lee Green, All Rights