Mark Ballard

Serving up a table full of memories

Mark Ballard
Mark Ballard jvorhees@macon.com

Some of my favorite memories are generously served up on platters, on plates and in bowls. In the South, gathering around a table full of large amounts of “from scratch” food is not only commonplace, it’s downright expected. In fact, if food is not involved, it is questioned as to whether it is even a gathering at all.

Boxes of 8-millimeter film wrapped tightly around reels and black and white photos starting to yellow with time chronicle our family’s deliciously luscious gatherings through the years. Proudly we sat with our plates full to the brims in our specific places around our grandparents’ table. Smiles were offered freely in the photos and home movies as our mouths watered and stomachs growled.

Their dining room table was such a comforting place. We were always excited and looked forward to each and every meal.

I can still clearly see just about every platter and bowl Granny owned. They spilled over with the likes of macaroni and cheese, collard greens, congealed salad, creamed corn, mashed potatoes and string beans. Taking center stage was either a glazed sliced ham or plump roast or, if we were lucky, both! Hot from the oven corn bread and melt-in-your-mouth biscuits were stacked neatly on platters close to the butter.

“Amen” was barely uttered before we dived into the meal. “Grab and growl,” Granny used to say as she started passing platters and bowls around the table. The silverware clinked as we gobbled up the tasty meal. Even though our stomachs were stuffed, we always knew a plethora of desserts waited in the kitchen.

The pots, pans and dishes from our delightful lunches and suppers were barely washed and dried before plans began to surface for our next gathering. Growing up in the Ballard house meant that food comforted us like a blanket on a cold night. Even though I have to exercise regularly and watch what I eat these days, I still wouldn’t trade for anything my upbringing with Southern comfort food.

I suppose that is why I always have been fascinated with antique platters and serving pieces. I actually have the entire set of Granny’s china that we ate from for as long as I can remember! Our kitchen serves as a backdrop for many old pieces we have collected. There’s barely a space left to hang another one, but it didn’t stop me the other day from buying yet another old cream-colored platter.

I heard it call to me from the shelf in the store and, with just one close look, it took me back decades. The patina of the platter was one of a glaze giving way to age. Although still in one piece, its entire surface visibly exhibited many years of use. Tiny cracks and uneven scratches made it all the more special to me. Looking at it from the side, time and constant use had warped it.

As I examined the old platter closely, I couldn’t help but wonder how many side dishes it had showcased on Southern tables, or how many hands touched it while being passed around the table. I imagined the various dining rooms it resided in and how many different people owned it before it ended up on this shelf. I could see it filled with neatly stacked pieces of sliced ham or perfectly placed deviled eggs.

I flipped the platter over to see what was on the back. I hoped to see some evidence of sticky residue or petrified masking tape still holding on for dear life. My mother and grandmother never dared take one of their platters to a church social, family reunion or home of the bereaved without a piece of masking tape with their name carefully printed on it secured to the back. God forbid it would permanently end up in someone else’s kitchen.

Apparently someone had been a good dishwasher because the back offered no history of its maker or former owner. I started to put it back on the shelf but couldn’t. After awaking all these wonderful memories from my past, I knew I had to purchase it. It had spoken to me, and by placing it on our kitchen wall I wanted it to become another reminder of my growing up years.

I think it deserves to be there. After all, it served a lot of people and survived many decades of use. It is already hung and obviously loves being with the other platters. Hanging proudly together they set a table full of memories. Every time I pass them, I will get a warm and cozy feeling inside. Oh, how I love my memories of great times and great comfort food.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; follow him at instagram.com/markcreates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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