By Maureen Hart
Because it is a popular time of year for spring and summer weddings, I was thinking about the practical aspects of getting married—namely, registering for gifts.
When I was first married in 1973, I had a very tiny wedding, but I received some lovely gifts including a few that I still have. Brides-to-be are expected to choose a china, crystal, and silver pattern—although the styles have since become more casual—so together we chose a simple ivory and platinum Lenox pattern (Solitaire) for the china, a moderately priced crystal pattern, and a Reed and Barton silver pattern (18th Century).
I compromised on the china, since I favored a gold rim over platinum, and always found the setting a little modern, although I did love the shape of the coffee cup. This set has been passed down to my daughter, who likes it because, guess what– it has a modern feel.
Of those three patterns, the one that has stood the test of time with me is the silver, because of its simple, clean, timeless style. It goes with modern or antique china and I’ve never tired of it.
Out of the gifts we received, one that I remember using for many years was a wooden salad set with a large serving bowl, smaller individual bowls, and serving utensils. I still treasure a lovely set of crystal oil and vinegar cruets from a deceased aunt. But, the most sentimental item I still have was a gift from my grandmother—a handmade cross-stitch sampler. It doesn’t go with anything, and never did, but it was a labor of love that I will always find room for.
What I didn’t actually keep for very long were single use or then-trendy items like two different fondue sets, an enormous punch bowl set, and a fancy silver and glass coffee carafe with a warming candle. Once, in a flurry of organizing, I also got rid of all the silver chafing dishes. I’ve never missed any of them.
After my first husband’s death, I remarried, and ended up registering for wedding gifts. Although we requested our guests to donate to two of our favorite charities, many of them insisted on buying actual gifts and so I thought it was practical to have a say in what we needed or liked.
Although we were combining two households of “stuff,” lots of it was out-dated, worn, or already handed down to our children. And, admittedly, it was fun to choose new things so many decades later.
So, what do I consider the three most useful gifts from my registry?
- Definitely my white Corning ware set. It has oval, rectangular and round pieces with lids and is versatile, going from oven to table to fridge, and the plain design matches anything.
- A rectangular electric skillet that I use for preparing chicken, green beans, pierogis, and a million other things. The joy is that when I am having a buffet party, it also keeps the food hot.
- A pewter salad set (replaces that old wooden one) and a matching chip and dip bowl. We entertain a lot and these two pieces are versatile, look great, and never have to be polished.
What could I have done without? Admittedly, I registered for it, but I gave the blender to my stepson, who loves it. I am just not a blender person. I guess I’ll regret it if I ever want to make pina coladas, but then again, Johnny lives next door and I could always borrow it back. I also never used the sandwich machine, Foreman grill, or a fully-stocked wicker picnic basket. (I’m not a picnic person, although I do enjoy tailgating, which is almost the same thing, but with Penn State paper cups.)
I didn’t register for them, but we received a lot of Belleek and Lenox decorative pieces. While I am an admitted china freak, I find that the decorative pieces, while beautiful, add a lot of clutter, as opposed to the place settings that get used for dinners.
After all this experience, what would I suggest for new brides? Well, I think a crock pot is wonderful, although I don’t really cook dinners in mine. Instead, I use it to keep food hot during buffet dinners. I received a number of glass water pitchers and I use them often for company dinners. I have a number of sets of dishes and china, but for somebody starting out, I suggest a plain white pattern that can be used for any occasion—add red napkins, tablecloth, and a holiday centerpiece, and voila, you have a festive Christmas dinner table. Cart them out to the patio to place on raffia place mats with gingham napkins and you have casual ambiance for a cook-out. Dress them up with black napkins and gold-toned napkin rings and you have a formal table setting. And every other piece you receive, no matter the color or pattern, will match up with your dishes.
Not wanting to limit suggestions to my own experience, I asked around for other ideas. A co-worker told me that her silver tea set was never used and she gave it away. (Most of us don’t entertain that formally anyway.) But she still has a set of two covered casserole dishes that she has been using for 35 years (“They are an ugly yellow/orange color but I use them a lot!”), and crystal vases she also uses all the time. Although she got rid of the tea set, she treasures her silver candelabra. “One of the nicest gifts ever!” she proclaims. “And I use it for almost every holiday.” She also said silverware is essential.
Another friend from my era agreed she could live without the fondue set she registered for in 1974 for her first wedding. “I hate to iron, so that was also a waste,” she admits. “I probably figured I had to register for it.”
On the bright side, she treasures a clock from her grandmother (“It’s very dear to us”) that she keeps on the piano because it looks similar to a metronome. And she is still using an electric frying pan from her first wedding. Although she doesn’t still have the same towels and sheets she received for her second wedding, she says that’s something a couple can’t live without.
Another long married relative told me she could not have lived without the sheets, towels and dinnerware they received. “We were just setting up house and had nothing, so these things were necessities.” She gave away a swan-shaped serving platter, electric knife, and cheap silverware that bent. “I was still learning how to boil water and use a regular carving knife….I wasn’t thinking about decorative platters or gadgets yet,” she confesses.
A younger friend swears by a laundry basket, large wooden salad bowl with serving utensils (some things are timeless!), and a basket of cooking spices and oil. On the other hand, she never uses her punch bowl (again, some things never change) and a decorative crystal bowl.
A close male relative swears by a mandoline, which he uses to cut potatoes and all kinds of vegetables. He also did not opt for a matched set of knives or cookware, preferring to choose individual pieces according to their use. (“I’m not one for matched sets that have pieces you will rarely use,” he explains. Better to pick exactly what you want and need.”) Among other items, he suggests chef, bread, and paring knives and commercial pots and pans.
And, yes, men are now in on the act of registering for items of their choice. And they should be, most especially if they like to cook. Do try to pick a husband who likes to cook. That talent will last far longer than their fabulous hair or abs.
On the other hand, his wife says she could not live without the linens and towels, and admits they use everything they registered for. “I recommend a good set of everyday dishes and nice flatware,” she adds (the better to serve all that yummy food!).
A close relative says the most useful items she registered for were bath towels, a Ninja food processor, and a vacuum cleaner. Her bonus answer is: Gift cards! Never used were wall décor that were not in keeping with their taste, the cake serving set from the reception, and dinner chargers. “As much as I like them, no one uses them anymore,” she explains. (Actually most people never use their toasting glasses again, unless for anniversaries. But they are a standard wedding shower gift.)
Another young friend says nix to the Ninja blender, as well as a serving dish that was not on their registry and a super heavy piece of art that they still don’t know what to do with. (“It weighs 15 pounds and we’re not even sure what it’s for.”) She is much more enthused about their everyday set of dishes, which are well used and loved; their pots and pans, and their wet/dry vac (“Not very romantic!). They are also fond of wall hangings they received.
Other suggestions from people I chatted with included: Pint glasses, glasses for both red and white wine, a wine cooler (lots of drinkers out there), Dutch oven, pasta pot, and a Kitchen Aide mixer (but I myself warn you to register for this only if you will actually use it, as they are heavy and take up counter/cupboard space).
I think we can see a trend here—the basics of dishes, towels, linens and silverware are a must. The trendy and decorative items are less likely to stand the test of time. So put back the quesadilla maker and ice cream machine and go for the things you will use every day.