Growing Joyce Riley


By Joyce Riley


     Someone once said rules were made to be broken but, being a serious child and eager to please, I didn’t break rules.  There were, of course, major rules and minor rules, but, for the most part I honored them all.  I went up the ‘up’, down the ‘down’, in the ‘in’, out the ‘out’ and always obeyed my teachers and the school crossing guard.

     At home my parents were loving, reasonable people who set reasonable rules, the first one being the Golden Rule, which was set more by example than teaching or preaching.  Other house hold rules were more in line with expectations.  I was expected to make my bed, clean my room (this loosely obeyed), dry the dishes (sometimes under protest), hang the laundry and gather the chickens’ eggs.  And, since Daddy worked a swing shift at the bakery, I was expected to be quiet ‘til he got up at ten in the morning.  In fact, the only household rules I recall are Mother’s rules for setting the dinner table. 

     “Knives and spoons go on the right side of the plate and forks on the left.  Napkins should be folded and placed next to each fork.  And, always put a butter knife beside the butter plate.”

     Mother was married for twenty five years before she owned a set of flat-ware (silver plate, not sterling), which included a matching butter knife.  Matching or not, there was always a butter knife on the table, even during World War 2, when there was no butter.

     Sugar, coffee, gasoline, tires and a host of other goods were rationed during the war.  Butter was not only rationed but, it seemed, unavailable.  Soon after butter disappeared from the table, oleo margin took its place.


     Oleo was white, looked like lard, but wasn’t, and came packaged with a small bag of orange food coloring.  It was my job to mix the coloring into the oleo until we had something that resembled butter.  After mixing, the oleo was shaped like butter sticks, cooled in the ice box, then served on a butter plate set with a butter knife.

     Butter returned after the war was over but, by then, margarine had caught on.  It was colored and sold in sticks, just like butter. 

     “And”, we were told, “It’s better for you.”

    I married and, after starting a family, laid down some rules for our children: “Make the bed carefully, mow the lawn thoroughly, set the table properly and don’t forget the butter knife.”

     Those rules were generally followed but, usually, with an, “Oh Mom, do I have to?”

     Our children were a little less anxious to please than I was, but I won’t go into a dissertation on major infractions known or unknown.  After all, it’s often the little things that count, little things like clean under ware and butter knives.  So, I’ll get back to the knives and the butter.

     The next advance in margarine (not knives) was a soft spread in tubs.  It was, obviously, easier to spread and, again, “better for you”.  But, the butter knife didn’t sit well in a tub.  That was when I broke my mother’s butter knife rule. 

     With a conscious, thoughtful apology to Mother, who lived hundreds of miles away, I said, “Don’t bother putting the butter knife on the table.”

     Since I have grown, I’ve gone up some ‘down’ stair cases, in some doors marked “out” and jay walked, when it was safe and no one was looking.  I’ve probably broken a few other minor rules, all with out feelings of guilt; but, I have always felt a little bit guilty for breaking Mother’s butter knife rule.


     Time has passed, ideas have changed and butter, it seems, is not quit as bad as it used to be.  Even if it is, I like it.  There’s nothing better than fresh corn on the cob slathered with butter. But, now, we don’t use a butter knife, we simply roll the corn over the cube, leaving a valley in the butter, which simply calls for more corn.  Mother was flexible, loved butter and would have seen the practicality of buttering corn with a cube.

    Some times, now, I use butter and some times I use a spread.  But, what ever is placed on the table is served with a butter knife.

     Recently, when Dave was dining with us, he said, “I remember that butter knife.”

     I smiled and said, “It was your grandmother’s.  She got it as an anniversary gift.”
Thank you, cousin Joyce. Being named after my cousin is a wonderful thing. And yes, there are other names in the family. really


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