The Certifiable Duchess

Oh, wait, I think maybe the title should have been the “certified” Duchess. Or maybe not even that. It’s just that I gave my mother the title of Dowager Duchess only in the last couple of years, and now I’ve found proof that she held the title of “Duchess” at least 50 years ago.

The Dowager Duchess and I were cleaning out a couple of kitchen cabinets this morning. My mother had a set of “movie dishes” that she and her mother collected in the 1940s. Every time you went to the movies, you got a dish. They amassed five services for 8 and my mother kept two, one of which she gave to me for my first apartment. The Duchess’s everyday dishes have been depleted over the years, and she won’t use her fine china for everday use — not because she’s saving her fine china for posterity, but because she has never liked her fine china. So she thought perhaps she could start filling in with some of the movie dishes — specifically large soup/cereal bowls. The dishes were stacked up in the back of an upper cabinet (above the broom closet) and the Kid Brother has never been in the mood to climb up and empty the cabinet for her. Every time she asks, he says, “Some other time.” Even I at my “elevation” needed to use the step stool. The Kid Brother is about 6 inches shorter (although, even at that, he towers by that same amount over our Mother The Dowager Duchess).

Among the miscellaneous things — like a stovetop percolator from the year of the flood (and I’m not talking last year’s Hurricane Sandy), and a first aid kit containing salves and ointments that expired in 1980 — there was a musty shipping box and a couple of thermoses. One thermos was last used in 1987 when my mother brought pea soup to the hospital for my father. It was his favorite, but by that time, he could only manage one sip. Still, it made him happy. The other thermos apparently belonged to The Duchess — although I can’t imagine The Duchess drinking from a plastic thermos cup. But I know for certain it was her thermos because it’s got her name on it — just like Queen Elizabeth’s things are personalized with “HRH,” this one is inscribed, “The Duchess.”


The musty shipping box was a mail order package to The Duchess from the Kraft Foods Company. The address label was for my parents’ first home on Van Siclen Avenue in Brooklyn, which we left behind for suburban Long Island in 1956. I thought the age of the box was novel enough but then I noticed that I had doodled a bit on the box.

I said, “Oh, God. Look, I doodled on the box.” The Duchess said, “You doodled on everything!” She’s right, of course. She used to take pens out of my hands when we sat at the dinner table. I couldn’t help myself. This was clearly one of my lesser works. There were very few sketches and there was still considerable surface area remaining to be covered. Inside the box was a set of stacking cake pans for making a layer cake. Along with the percolator, thermoses, and extra movie dishes, we have a load to be delivered to the charity shop down the street.



Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

23 thoughts on “The Certifiable Duchess”

  1. What a 'treasure' to find!! Love rooting through stuff like this!
    Hey Mitchell, Sophie and you would get along just fine….she's a 'doodler' of sorts!!
    The photo of you three is precious….can really feel the warmth. Nice.

    1. OK then we are on our way since you are on this side of the Atlantic now ~~~ Sophie perks up when we say your name and Jerry's and of course The Duchess. Love the Booth Trio photo ~~ so special!!


  2. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, what a lovely photo of the three of you!
    Very interesting story, Mitchell. Amazing, these old things we run across in the back of a cabinet… but, really… those are some SERIOUSLY old things. 🙂

  3. It sounds like you were having a bit of fun going through old stuff. The last photo is nice and I note that The Duchess managed to get her finger nails in shot.

  4. That is so charming! I just love stories like that.Your mom looks so happy and healthy and that is so nice to see. I'm kinda curious to see what the movie dishes vs china look like–I can't help it, I love dishes!

    1. Ms. Sparrow:
      I'll take a picture of a movie dish bowl, so you an see the pattern. The whole thing is very dated/old-fashioned but kind of novel 70 years later. My set, which I brought to a thrift store years ago had a Victorian couple sitting under a tree. It was so bad, it was good (almost). My mother's dishes are a mix of flowers.

    1. Kristi:
      Amid the "treasures" were about 40 pounds of dried-out tupperware (no longer burp-able) and disposable plastic party ware that should have been disposed of long ago! Glad my mother is able to use the bowls. Hope the stuff that survived the trash will make some money for charity and make someone else happy! Doesn't Jerry look amazing?!? A new man… or the one I used to know.

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