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Articles & Essays

"Mama's proper gift: CorningWare"

Published 03/03/13
The News & Observer (Raleigh , NC)
When two good friends recently informed me that they had run off and gotten married, I had one thought:
These two are not legally united until someone gives them a piece of CorningWare.
I know people think differently about cookware these days, but this is what I was raised to believe.
No matter who was getting married, from a neighbor girl I'd grown up with to the daughter of a daughter of a church acquaintance, my mother sent CorningWare. The pattern with the little blue flowers. Mama was a hard-line conservative about that.
I never asked why she didn't consider alternative gifts, like copper cookware collections or canister sets. One just didn't question in those days.
When I got married in 1981, my radical friends just about gave Mama the vapors with their choices of gifts. Serving champagne at my reception was trying enough for her, but a grill, portable cooler and tool box as wedding gifts? What was the world coming to?
However, she did insist that thank-you notes for those gifts, no matter how questionable she considered them, go out within a week, calling me to make sure I'd done my job. Even with deviant gifts, she had standards.
But she really got rolling when a lovely set of three high-quality kitchen knives showed up.
She had a fit, citing an entry from the catalog of superstitions she carried in her brain which said that knives as a wedding gift were bad luck. They would "sever the marriage." How could someone send such a thing, she moaned. I believe she told me to get them out of my house as fast as possible.
Perhaps this was just my youthful rebelliousness talking, but I felt certain that a nice, useful, reliable set of kitchen knives was no threat to the institution of marriage. I'm still using two of the three after 31 years wed, so I believe I'm vindicated. The paring knife fell victim to my unfortunate love of the first dishwasher I ever owned; I put everything in the kitchen in it.
In fact, I wish I'd received another set of knives instead of the electric bun warmer that one of Mama's church friends sent me and that I suspect to this day was a re-gifting.
But what was first on the numbered gift record that Mama insisted I keep? A one-quart CorningWare baking dish.
So our marriage was clearly legitimate, despite the presence of other unnatural presents.
If Mama was still around today, she would be calling me weekly to bemoan the anything-goes nature of today's wedding gifts. 
According to The Knot, a website about all things wedding related, nine out of 10 couples still register for kitchen items. But couples can also register for tents and backpacks at outdoor-supply stores or wine collections at online wine shops. Sports fans can add a DVR or a Kegerator (a little refrigerator with a tap that holds a keg of beer) to their wedding registries. Couples can force friends to share their green impulses by using only eco-friendly registries that offer such things as wine glasses made from recycled glass using wind energy.
Or, heck, they can just bypass all that messy opening and possibly returning by just asking for cash money. Numerous online registries allow couples to ask guests to pay for honeymoons, cars, houses or the wedding itself.
"Now would-be beneficiaries are saving others the trouble of volunteering by listing their demands," wrote Miss Manners, Judith Martin, in "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated." (W.W. Norton & Co., 2005).
Still, I grew up believing that a true marriage was not solemnized by place mats made from sustainably grown bamboo or wallpaper for the dining room (yes, you can register for wallpaper).
I could not find CorningWare with the little blue flowers - the cookware, which goes back to 1958, has updated its styles - but I carried a dish in a neutral tan to my friends' home.
Congratulations, Brenda and Nancy.
Now, you're really married, even according to my Mama.

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