A few years before my grandmother passed away, she sold her home on Avenue O in Brooklyn, and traded up for her dream of living in the thriving upper West Side of Manhattan. An avid theatergoer, it was her dream to be surrounded by the culture in the throbbing heart of New York City. My parent’s found her an Assisted Living a stone’s throw from Lincoln Center and Central Park; and with a community of residents to dazzle with her Bridge skills and story telling, it was a dream come true.
My parents dutifully helped her make arrangements, sell her house and most of her possessions to make the move. As I was living across the country, there wasn’t much opportunity for me to take advantage of this downsizing, and furniture was out of the question. I did manage to keep a set of glass dessert and serving bowls, which I augmented when I stumbled upon the same set at a local garage sale; 3 of her Faberge eggs, unfortunately the ones in the boring colors, because although I have fond memories of playing store with my grandpa and a full set of rainbow colored eggs, the white and yellow ones were all that were left when she passed away. (She was convinced her aids stole a few.) I have a small sugar bowl that I associate with memories of eating Shredded Wheat on grandpas lap, sprinkled with Sweet and Low. (I guess it was deemed to be healthy at the time.) I also took a really cool duvet cover that screams 70’s fabric. Even though I love its bright vintage quality, I have never once had an opportunity to use it. Of all these inherited household items, a set of Delta airline plates is my favorite.
These are ceramic white plates, meant to fit on an airline tray, but permanent ones, not disposables. On the back, there is a proud label; “Delta Air Lines Inc. Pealtzgraff, Copyright USA.” There are also four from American Airlines. As an avid traveler, I’ve seen the quality of domestic flights decline dramatically over the years, and I appreciate these plates as a changing sign of the times. Aside from the handful of times I’ve flown first class using either a spontaneous free upgrade or my Dad’s air miles, I have never seen anything not disposable on an airplane. These days, meals aren’t even included, you need to pay $8.50 and up for a small “snack box” with a few crackers and cheese.
I also appreciate the mystery surrounding the plates. Despite her love of the world and her adventurous spirit, my grandmother’s first plane ride was not until she was 52 years old. My Dad has surmised that this trip was motivated by my parents first trips to Vegas and San Francisco when they were newlyweds, a year or two out of college, followed a year later by a tour of Europe. I suppose it was a wake-up call to my grandmother that if they could do it, she could do it too. A year later, she and my grandfather flew to Italy and enjoyed many trips together after that. I especially remember them raving about a visit to the Norwegian Fjords.
I suppose that travel later in life is another sign of the times, as I was less than a year on my first flight, brought along on a family trip to Florida. My first international trip was at the age of 11 when I got to fly with my Mom to my cousin’s wedding in London. I loved meeting my relatives and touring the city with my Mom. My son got his first passport at 6 months old, and we flew to New York for a wedding when he was only 8 months old. We crossed the Atlantic to visit his other set of grandparents in Finland, and tagged on another 2 week stint in Croatia before his second birthday. While I have certainly enjoyed the privilege of easy airline travel, I assume the novelty of flight and the opportunity to travel was something my grandmother didn’t take for granted. Did she daydream wistfully about her next trip when looking at those Delta plates?
Even more mysterious, how did she get those plates? Did she smuggle them off the airplane after each ride? I don’t know if she flew enough for that, though I wouldn’t put it past her to calmly lean in towards a neighboring passenger, and boldly ask “Dear, Do you mind if I keep that plate when you are done with it?” I could visualize her wiping the plate with a wet towelette, wrapping it in a tissue, and casually sliding it into her Le Sport Sac travel bag.
Alternatively, was a set of free Delta plates part of a promotion? Were plates the free gift equivalent of signing up for a credit card and getting 10,000 bonus miles? Those damn solicitations flood my mailbox daily, perhaps it was the same back then, but instead of credit cards, VIP lounges, and points, the prized commodity was a set of plates.
Unfortunately, my grandmother has passed away, and I doubt that my Dad or his brother would even know what plates I’m talking about, never mind their origin. Maybe my Great Aunt would know? Inspired by this blog post, I did a quick Google search with the name and product number from the back of the plate. I’ve found that there are many out there to be purchased on E-bay, but no seller clarifies how they were obtained.
In the meantime, I can continue to enjoy them, reflect on a different time period where airline travel was a novelty and service wasn’t so crappy, and continue to wonder about the mystery of these plates. They are practical as well! I don’t use them frequently, but they are my go to dessert plate for when company is over!
If you have had a similar experience with a family antique, or if you have come across any similar airline memorabilia or have thoughts about the origin, please share in the comments below!