Monday, January 4, 2010

Memories of Melmac

I was raised in the heyday of Melmac, when just about every household in America had it in the kitchen. I ate from, washed, dried, and stacked Melmac plates every day of my life for two decades, because those plates were indestructible. They were white with a brown and yellow wheat pattern. I grew to hate those dishes.

Why do I bring up Melmac? Well, melamine, that hard plastic resin, is making a comeback. On Saturday, something possessed me to buy a stack of mixing bowls in rainbow hues.

I lost my grandmother’s glass mixing bowls in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Every breakable dish in the kitchen was hurled on the floor. All my vintage glassware and crockery was in a heap of chips eight inches deep. I went out and bought cheap replacements, including lightweight plastic mixing bowls.

So here it is, 15 years later, and I saw this stack of mixing bowls on a shelf at the store. They are sturdy and colorful. I thought: I’m tired of cheap plastic.

They are made of melamine. So are a lot of dishes on display these days. The bowls have sat on the kitchen counter for two whole days. I am trying to work through a strange reluctance to actually own these mixing bowls, about which I have mixed feelings.

I think it has to do with my memories of Melmac. So I wrote a poem, hoping the Muse would tell me more.

Ode to Melmac Dishes

Oh, my Melmac dinnerware
you trudge through my childhood
like the heavy shoes I wore
(Dr. Scholls, what a bore
but serviceable and virtually
indestructible, designed
for fortitude, not for class)

I grew beside the sinks
of my childhood, washing
Melmac dishes with a rag
listening to my mother nag
about the quality of my work
while my brother kicked back
dishes that didn’t pass

I still can see the brown, the
white and gold wheat pattern
I still can hear the clatter
of Melmac plates and platters
on porcelain-painted iron
smell the soapsuds dripping down
feel the heft of plastic mass

Sometimes I dried instead
of washed, with a muslin towel
stitched by Grammy, killer of fowl
and grower of beans, she
whose presence seemed to rule
who spoke more kindly, far less
meanly, to a troubled lass

All my life the Melmac plates
rested in the cupboard
when they were not being used
To the plastic plates was fused
the growing pain of one
young girl who wished for love
and had her wishes dashed.


It appears that I feel sorry for the lonely little girl who did her chores without much affection from the people around her.

Now, thank God, I've made peace with that troubled childhood. All's well that ends well. And by Sunday night, the new mixing bowls were in the cupboard, ready for a batch of cookies. Maybe this afternoon....


Anonymous said...

My father would only let us eat from hard plastic plates and bowls. He said we were animals and spilled or broke everything! ha ha. Probably did.


the walking man said...

A plate is a plate and a bowl a bowl, but an earthquake...that is a horse of another color.

You know Just Chris I kept reading that last line, and that last word in that last line and I kept reading washed as the last word. Must be a lack of sleep, mine not yours.

Just Be Real said...

EO, was never a cook so I really did not have or do much in the kitchen unless forced to. But, I certainly do love those brightly colored bowls. I would of bought them for the color. Thank you for sharing on Melmac items. Blessings to you dear one!

Madison said...

It's so interesting, the memories that pop up from childhood. I think there must have been a benefit in mine to having to cooked meals. We ate on paper plates to avoid kitchen duties or at restaurants to avoid any stressed out cooks. If Melmac was around I was completely unaware. And here you were in the kitchen with a rag listening to your mother nag. I always learn something when I read your posts. Thank you for so faithfully writing.

Beth said...

Quite the tulmultuous relationship you had with those Melmac plates! No wonder you hesitated with the bowls.

I love the memories presented in your poem.

Karen said...

I hadn't thought of melamine for years! As for washing dishes...well, my parents bought a diswasher the week after I got married, if that tells you anything! Actually, I have very fond memories of doing dishes because it was a twosome - my sister and me, composing songs, laughing behind my mother's back, playing games, and clacking away with the melmac!

ps - I wonder if the "never good enough" thing is a precursor to many others that follow? My sister had the same problem...

Brian Miller said...

oh i have washed my share and then some...and i am glad you have made peace, maybe that way you can enjoy the mising bowls. smiles.

sarah said...

I love these bowls...their color pulls me. And that poem...really good.

The pale observer said...

I remember those bowls!! Great blog - I like your writing. So down to earth and poignant.

I just found you and became your newest follower. I'll be back!!!


Holli in Ghana

evalinn said...

Interesting! I don´t know those, we don´t have them over here...

Anonymous said...

We had those blasted dishes too. To this day, I hate plastic plates! Ours were orange, lime and dark green. Maybe grey too? The kitchen would be inspected by the drill Seargent afterward. I have made peace with this also! We had an enamel pan that my Mom always used, and when I was the washer, I would place it in the strainer very carefully with the hollow handle full of water. When my brother would pick it up to dry it the water would go all over the front of him!!! Ha, ha. He would fall for it every time and would be so livid! Just thought I would share with you. I could really relate to your poem.

Enchanted Oak said...

Just a quick aside: Melmac was big in the Boomer years, the 1950s and60s. Melmac/melamine was made in America. Anyone born post-1970 will probably not remember Melmac dishes. They were replaced by inexpensive crockery dishes, often imported. Now melamine too is imported from China.

Dianne said...

Hmm, writer with great insight, my dishwasher is not working as of last night.

I have 3 pair of idle hands, now that school has started and the video games are locked away....

Anonymous said...

"killer of fowl, grower of beans."

Love that line.

big Jenn said...

I could see those cheesy wheat dishes! We had some with roosters on them. You know when I go to Target and see all the cheerful melamine dishes for all the seasons I'm drawn to them like a magnet. I always stop and gaze. Great poem. Great bowls! I was taken back to a place I forgot. jeNN

The Second Road said...

I like the triangle within a circle for the melmac "logo". :)

Alan Burnett said...

That is a wonderfully moving poem. I love the way you wring emotion out of pressed plastic. Such an enjoyable blog, always a pleasure to visit.

RNSANE said...

Chris, that is too funny but, of course, we all had melmac dishes. I've seen some recently that I liked - at Target, in bright colors - hot pink and purple - that I almost thought of buying.

I think my mother replaced our melmac dishes with Corelle...but I didn't really like them. They were too flimsy. Finally, we got
"wealthy" enough to get some really nice daisy dishes made by Metlox. I still use them!

Prayer Girl said...

I adore this post, poem and all.


Karen said...

Carmen - I remember when Corelle replaced melamine! I didn't like it either for the same reason! We're a bunch of old birds (of a feather) here! Ha!

Kristine said...

they look like nice bowls to me. hmmm, I'll try them instead of those boring cheap white plastics from Ikea.

Akannie said...

LOL...wonderful, Chris!!
I still won't eat off plastic nor drink out of plastic cups or glasses....f*&ing

I do love the colors of those bowls though...remind me of Fiesta ware, which I LOVE!

Thanks again, for brightening my day...


PS--My word verification??--scilli...Lmao...

Scott said...

I love this post :-)

Berowne said...

I remember Melmac. And I'll never forget seeing it, and its unbreakability, demonstrated on TV many years ago.

Turned out that, if it landed on a hard floor at just the right angle, it would indeed break.

The poor announcer, having announced to an eagerly-waiting world about this new unbreakable miracle, had to stand there and watch (it was live TV) as the thing splattered into smithereens.

lakeviewer said...

Who hasn't owned Melmac? Northridge earthquake? Wow! We too lost a whole lot in that one. We had to rebuild our house in Woodland Hills. That's another story, for another day!

Syd said...

I didn't eat from any plastic until graduate school. At home, the table was set for every meal. We have the many sets of china left me by my mother. The Christmas buffet was set with some Bavarian china that is edged in gold leaf.
But next year, I think that we may go tacky--have an oyster roast, BBQ, and chili and serve things on holiday melamine.

Woman in a Window said...

Oh wow, was that last line sobering! And did you know, did you see the switch of letters, dishes washed...wishes dashed. It spun my eyes for a moment 'til I got my bearings and read the impact of it. How these things, these old things, hold our stories. I love them...the things and the stories.

Tall Kay said...

It is amusing, the smells and sights we carry with us for many years. My oldest daughter has those exact bowls...and my memory was baking cookies at her house.

You know, I really cannot remember what kind of plates we used as a child. Old age...or just too busy being naughty at a very young age!

I wish writing a poem would help me make peace of the things I DO remember! How did the cookies turn out?

Scott said...

It just occured to me that you had asked me to eloborate on why I loved this post. (I had deleted that email, but recall the question now, lol)

I love this poem because youtranspoted me back to a place when I was small, remembering things about the everday routinte of my life as a kid. Helping mom doing dishes, remembering her mom dancing the charleston in the kitchen to entertain me as a kid, "the smell of soapbubbles" "the clank of dishes against the painted cast irn of the sink."

This is such a descriptive work, it really brought me back... very kool :-) Plus,I felt as if I were there with you back then.

Hope said...

This really spoke to me. I think I may write about it.