For years, a hand-painted Nippon china lemonade set has had a place of honor in my dining room. My grandmother, who was born in 1885, gave it to me. Mimmie, as we called her, had a 4th grade education (hence the spelling “Mimmie” instead of “Mimi” as others might have spelled it).
Mimmie’s maiden name was Margaret Zoe Mominee. She was born in a log cabin in Mominee Town, which is east of Toledo in Northwest Ohio. Mominee Town was at the crossroads of Corduroy Rd. and what used to be called Big Ditch Rd. (perhaps the names were descriptive of the roads at the time). Family lore has it that Mimmie’s French Canadian ancestors came through Windsor, Ontario, past Frenchtown Township in Michigan and settled a little south of Lake Erie.
Mimmie was an easygoing cheerful woman. She laughed easily and didn’t fuss when her grandkids (my two older brothers, younger sister, and I) grew restless and squirmy during. Every week, we drove across town with my Dad for a visit. There was nothing to do at her house, but she’d pull out an old red rubber ball for us to bounce outside. Or my sister and I could look through the button collection in the drawer of her treadle sewing machine. When we’d had enough, she’d offer root beer floats, which she called “brown cows.” We also got chalky pink or white mints from the covered candy dish that sat on the built-in china cabinet in her dining room.
Centered inside on one shelf was a yellow lemonade set painted with violets and a gold rim. On another shelf was a blue and white chocolate set that was painted with pink flowers. It was also Nippon although it looked like Bavarian china. Nippon porcelain was made between 1891 and 1921 in Japan. It was a less expensive version of the European tea, lemonade, and chocolate sets popular at the time. The pieces could be collected at Sears, Montgomery Ward, grocery stores, gift shops and dime stores. These porcelain sets were some of the few fancy things Mimmie had, and more than likely, she bought them a piece at a time. When my sister and I admired the sets, Mimmie told us they’d be ours one day.
Looking back, they’re a puzzle. Mimmie was very practical and down-to-earth. She made many of the cotton house dresses she wore. She’d create a pattern from the old dress and “run up a new one on the sewing machine” as she said. She only wore jewelry with her one good dress—a navy blue crepe dress with a white lace collar. And she only wore her good dress to church or family occasions.
She was a good cook and liked to bake, but she made Boston brown bread in empty vegetable cans, banana cupcakes (to use up bananas going bad), and oatmeal cookies, our favorite. Mimmie was not one to make shortbread cookies or fussy foods suitable for a ladies tea. But I wonder if she ever invited her sisters or women friends over for lemonade. And if she didn’t use the sets, but kept them for good, did they meet some yearning for nice things? A yearning I share, which I why I coveted the set as a girl.
Today, the sets are collectible and valuable. But after dusting them and keeping them for good for 30 years, I’ve decided to invite friends over for lemonade this summer. And if a cup gets chipped, so what? Except for my sister, no one will ever care about this set as much as I do, and she has her own set!
A book called The Secret Life of Objects by Dawn Raffell inspired this blog. I’ve decided a lot of my things have stories to tell, too.