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Recalling fond memories of Melmac

By Staff | Aug 7, 2009

Displayed on our Melmac dinnerware were the ever-popular colors of the early ’70s: tangerine orange, avocado green, and coffee tan. A curved branch of oranges with leaves abounding, an old-fashioned green Thermos perfect for picnics, and a china hutch featuring a potted fern, four drawers and Pennsylvania Dutch design were three of the decorative elements of the left side of this dinnerware. Directly at the bottom of the plate was a round, squatty orange serving pitcher. Its style was a mainstay in church basements serving dishes. You know – the full belly type which holds lots of juice – complete with a substantial handle and, of course, a narrowed neck and curved spout. In a solitary space on the right side of the dinnerware was a folk art coffee pot with a funky spout and handle. I assume it was showing off a bit. All of these designs were abiding on a tan window screen textured backdrop which created a cordial result.

How many of you remember Melmac in your home? How about the cool cafeteria Melmac in shades of aqua, pink, and yellow? I have just shared with you one of three Melmac patterns which were present in the Repnow home. Melmac is the trade name for melamine, a substance that was turned into an incredibly tough, hard plastic by the American Cyanamid Corporation in the 1940’s. These folks came up with a mighty brilliant product that produced break-resistant dishes. Looking up melamine in the dictionary, I found this: A plastic made from copolymerizing a white crystalline solid with formaldehyde. Not exactly a delicious sounding recipe, but certainly a formula for durable dinnerware. Melmac pacified growing families in the early ’50s like Spandex smoothes our ever-growing bulges of today. Just wait -I know some chemist will develop an ultra-slimming fabric with the high performance qualities of Melmac and then overeating and spilling on ourselves won’t be a problem!

In a home of five exuberant boys, Melmac was popular for three reasons. First: It was incredibly hard-wearing. Unlike china or pottery, it was very bounceable! We dropped numerous pieces while doing dishes, and no harm was done. Second: It was manufactured in a wide variety of interesting colors and shapes, therefore pleasing many diners. Third: By the late ’60s more “elegant” designs were being made and often featured interesting patterns which allowed children to daydream at meal time. Do you really want to know how many times I opened those four hutch drawers and the discoveries I made?

In the recent “retro “movement, Melmac dinnerware has become a hot item for collectors. Melmac was made by a variety of manufacturers, including Lenox Ware, which produced the above pattern, Texasware, Oneida, Apolloware, Branchell, and Allied Chemical just to name a few. My mother had the good sense to recycle our Melmac as picnic ware once we moved on to Corelle dishes. Several years ago, my mom was housecleaning and sent this fun set of Melmac my way, and it certainly brings back a wave of good memories.

In the early ’70s, our Melmac would have heard chatter about the Underwood Comets games, swimming at Riverdale, the excitement of my father when his first train car load of GE appliances arrived for his store; thoughts of my mother returning to nursing at the Prairieview Nursing Home; my brothers’ latest girlfriends (only discussed after my parents left the table) and me going on about how I picked up a piece of vintage glassware at the neighbor’s rummage sale. When the chatter of five energetic boys became too much, and just about every zig and zag had been expressed, my mother took pleasure in reciting this poem over the family Melmac.

Be Still

By S. Alicia Poole

When you doubt the

lovely silence

Of a quiet wooded place,

When you doubt the path

of silver

Of some moonlit water space,

When you doubt the winds

a-blowing,

Flash of lightning,

glistening rain,

Sun or starlit heavens

above you

On the land or

bounding main,

sleep of loved ones

Deep beneath some

precious sod,

Listen to a soft voice saying,

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

You may view this exciting Melmac, along with many other interesting table tops, at the Rugby Lions Club’s third annual “Tables Envisioned” to be held August 10-13 in the lower level of the Heart of America Library. Funds raised from this project go towards library needs, such as large print books, as well as the elevator fund. Part of the money raised this year will also be used to start a fund to restore the fountain at Ellery Park. This worthwhile fountain project is in its infancy stage, and you will be hearing more about it.

Come and support “Tables Envisioned.” I know you will be delighted. Your eyes will see tables of beauty, history, notable interest, and you will also be showing your support for several worthwhile endeavors in our community.

I share with you one of my mother’s recipes which she served often on a variety of Melmac.

Repnow is a Rugby resident.

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