Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wedgewood Made of Cotton

My grandma won a set of Wedgewood plates at the movies back in the mid ‘40s. She went with Great Aunt Jen and two other friends to a double feature matinee. It’s not altogether clear what picture they saw. None of them are alive now to corroborate so I have to fill in the blanks. What I do know is that they saw a Joseph Cotton picture, but not one of his standouts. Something more of a B picture so obviously it couldn’t have been “Citizen Kane”, although Electra Theater showed that film every year from its inception in ’41 till the day it closed its doors in 1950. So the story goes Grandma, Aunt Jen, and the girls had been wearing out their welcome at the RKO Dyker on 86th Street. To put it mildly, they wanted a change of venue. Also, Electra sometimes played foreign stuff, Shakespeare, and artsy things. Plus, it was a few blocks closer to their homes. Except Aunt Jen of course, who trekked it in all the way from Jackson Heights.

Aunt Jen, the boss of the bunch, bought the tickets and doled them out. Grandma let her two friends take their stubs first. She took the last one and brought up the rear till the usher let them pass. After the first picture ended, some hokey Western, there was a brief intermission. A gentleman from the theater gathered the audience’s attention. He asked everybody to look over their stubs because there was a special giveaway. This was more or less par for the course, and how the houses packed them in. An old lady in a mint green sweater took home a train set. A middle-aged man in a scruffy corduroy blazer won two sets of shower curtains and a brass rod. There was one last giveaway, a set of eight Wedgewood plates.

Grandma’s eyes lit up when she saw the man holding the pink and white plate, a majestic scene of a castle perched beneath a brooding sky and tall fir trees, a lone moose in the foreground. She had eagle eyes and they were sitting up close. When she tuned into the winning number she cursed her losing stub. Her friend Lilia tossed hers on the floor. Nobody had claimed the plates and the blustery buzz of voices seemed to make the theater grow. When the man read off another number and it didn’t match Grandma’s she slapped the armrest, let out a sigh. Then she dipped down to retrieve her friend’s stub and to her amazement she had the winning number. Grandma leapt out of her seat. Lilia was stunned and Grandma held hands with her friend. But, Lilia didn’t budge. She scrunched to the back of the seat and the man on the stage repeated the number. Some people in front turned to see the commotion Grandma and Lilia were making. Aunt Jen glared at her cousin. “Get a move on,” she said.

Grandma insisted her friend take the prize, but Lilia insisted my Grandma go. Finally, they got up together and each took half. When Grandma stepped up on stage to accept the plates she said she felt like Carole Lombard. She’d never held anything so precious before a crowd of strangers. And for the whole rest of the movie her palms sweat. She worried she’d dump the plates off her lap and break them into a thousand shards.

She stayed though because Aunt Jen was in love with Joseph Cotton and if she had ever seen him walking down the street she would have stopped him right in his tracks and kissed him square on the mouth. When the credits rolled up Aunt Jen touched her finger to her lips, shushing her seatmates and Grandma’s thoughts took a leisurely drift onto an English countryside.

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