May 29, 2012

objects: Noritake Lemon Plate, c.1918

Writing prompts have always been one of the best ways to push myself outside of my comfort zone in my work - a way to challenge my brain to follow some new paths and reach into deeper corners. I have some books filled with prompts, and might share some of those along the way, but what I am really excited about right now is a series of "object prompts." I will combine a couple of my favorite hobbies: treasure-hunting and writing, in order to see where the writing might lead. 

This first "object prompt" is a Noritake Lemon Plate, c. 1918, which I found at an antique shop. It caught my eye and connected with me from the moment I spotted it, but I must admit I was not entirely sure what it was! I had never before come across a 'lemon plate,' and it just might change my life forever, hehe! :) Hope you enjoy the piece that came from this special prompt.

"The Lemon Plate"

It was time to serve the tea. The ladies’ luncheon had ended, and Eleanor, her co-host, had already brought the silver, tiered dessert stand to the table of eight, where the other women pretended not to notice and thought of nothing else. In the kitchen now, by herself, leaving her friend to keep the conversation going, Colleen squinted her eyes and rattled her brunette head quickly side to side as she leaned over the counter and tried to remember. “What else? What else?,” she murmured softly.  “Teapot, coffeepot,” (they liked to call it ‘tea,’ since it sounded so much more European and formal, but there was always more coffee poured than tea, not that anyone would admit to paying attention) “cream, sugar cubes, with a tiny spoon for serving.”  And it came to her, right in order. She had studied the list at least fourteen times for this very reason.  “Lemons. Lemons are what.”  She had forgotten to slice the lemons.  
Quickly, she took the long butcher’s knife from the drawer. She hated to look at it, hated the “weapon-ness” of it, but it was the quickest thing to do the trick. She set it on the counter and grabbed two lemons from the icebox; surely the women would never get through two lemons, but you always wanted to be sure it looked like ‘plenty,’ when it was your turn to host these sorts of things. A quick rinse of the lemons, each one sliced twice longways, “Ah, here we are.” It helped her to talk herself gently through even the simplest of actions, while he was away. So much silence, so much missing him, and always, always missing her mother.  These verbal instructions were the most she herself could sound like her own Ma’s soothing, nurturing tones. But no silence now, not with the house full of church ladies. “You had better keep your mind straight, Colleen.”
She had worked herself up to this moment, had anticipated its difficulty even as she was aware of its absurdity. He had sent her a present. He had thought of her and had sent her a present. How many of the women had already bragged about their own gifts from afar, their own war-tokens filling the stead of their men while they were away. And now it was her turn to hold her gift, loud and proud, to share how he had thought of her. She pulled the tiny dish from the shelf above the sink, where it had sat, untouched, since she had opened it. Five and a half inches in diameter, its smooth white center outlined with a thin gold circle and rimmed in a creamy shade of ivory, the lemon plate was decorated with tiny flowers and flourishes in exactly ‘her’ colors: gold and coral tones, with a hint of blue. He knew her well.
It wasn’t the smallness of the gift that upset her - she knew he had gone to trouble just to get her anything at all. It didn’t matter what the other ladies had received, she knew he had done just what he could. She set the plate on the counter and moved the lemon slices quickly, arranging them as neatly as she could (it was really too many for the plate, but that’s how “plenty” goes, she guessed). Her righthand index finger deftly hooked into the tiny handle of the plate, and deposited it gently on the wooden tray. She thought again how the plate resembled the candleholder stored in her imagination from her favorite childhood poem, “Jack be nimble.” Her mother had whispered it gently to her each night as a sendoff to her sleep and dreams. In third grade, she had learned in school the meaning behind the poem: One could expect good luck to follow if one could clear the candle on a jump and not blow out the flame. 
She had met her own Jack in her high school years, though not in school. She worked at the local wool factory and noticed his tall, broad frame coming and going from the building next to hers. All the girls knew him, all the girls wanted him, with his wavy dark brown locks always spilling over his brow and his twinkling grey eyes always in on the joke. When she mysteriously caught his attention (he never would say how or why), it was clear he knew he had only to say so, and she would be his. And it happened just like that. She should have played harder to get, perhaps, she should have questioned more and trusted less. But she had made her choice, and here it had all led, to an afternoon spent hosting the church ladies’ luncheon with two babies sleeping upstairs and letters that only came once a month.
Now was not the time to think, but oh, did she know him well. She knew he did not believe in gifts for no reason, but as penance, tokens of affection to make up for what had been done wrong. Her painted lacquer compact, her lovely tortoise-shell hair comb, her ruffled pink apron: each held an offense, but each had been forgiven. She had almost come to love them, these little proofs that they could heal and make amends. But her breath had caught when the small box wrapped in brown paper had arrived for her, and she bit her bottom lip hard as she tore away the paper and found the little plate. So far away, so out of touch, she didn’t know the reason or the sin, but she knew her husband, knew him well, and knew, too, she might never know why. 
Her hands tucked strongly underneath each handle as she lifted the tray and turned swiftly on her left heel to push her shoulder against the kitchen door. “Here we are now, ladies, tea is officially served!” She deserved better, perhaps, but she had chosen, and that was all. 

Best not to think on it too much, and best to keep the lemon plate tucked in a drawer from now on.


  1. LOVED this story! I can't believe in such a short work you made it feel so vivid and interesting! I am SO excited and happy that you are sharing your gift; I can't wait to read every post!

  2. I agree completely! Very well done! Congratulations on your new adventure and I can't wait to read more!

  3. This was such an interesting read, I found myself longing to more about each character- well done!

  4. Therese, Dan and Hope - THANK YOU for your kind words, and even more for reading! xoxo