DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have noticed that in formal or semiformal table settings, the dessert fork is placed above the plate and parallel with the table edge. But it is always placed with the handle to the left. Why is this custom so universally followed? Most of my dessert-eating friends are not left handed.
GENTLE READER: So? Their fish, meat and salad forks appear to the left of their plates, and Miss Manners observes that they manage to get hold of those quickly enough.
Anyway, dessert -- either because it has an inherently sweet nature or because it appears when people are too bloated to fuss -- is eager to please everyone. While it is true that the dessert fork placed above the plate properly keeps its handle to the left, there should also be a dessert spoon, placed above the fork, with its handle toward the right. Dessert is truly an equal opportunity course.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife and I, now in our 60s and retired, have a good income, and everything is paid for. Over the years, we had many friends and entertained graciously, but now so many of our peers have died or retired and moved to warmer-climate communities.
We are overloaded with dishes, candelabra, silverware, serving dishes and industrial-size cookware. Sometimes I feel we had a restaurant in our home. I want to thin out some of these things. They take up room and space and are rarely used these days.
My wife won't get rid of anything. She is living in the past century and won't accept the fact that things are not going to be repeated, and our old friends are not going to come back, and those grand olde dinners are a thing of the past.
Do you think I am being unreasonable in wanting to have some of this stuff sold off, as we are very unlikely to use it for entertainment again? We are getting old, and I want less things around the house rather than having every nook and cranny, shelf and drawer filled with items that were used for entertaining.
We have fond memories and photographs, and I say that is enough. The equipment used for cooking and entertaining should be passed on to somebody younger who will get good use from them and go through the happy times we have had in the past.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is torn between siding with your wife and requesting a preview of the estate sale. After a fierce struggle, the unselfish side triumphed, and she would like to offer some testimony on behalf of your wife, along with a suggested compromise.
This is not to suggest that there is any right or wrong position in the subjective struggle between sentiment and clutter. She only wants to point out that the resources for entertaining are not just practical but, even unused, symbolic of a gracious way of living that your wife does not want to abandon.
Miss Manners' compromise is to keep just enough of your best china and silver and such for you and your wife to use every day, along with a few extras as replacements and for the apparently few guests you may still see. That way, your wife will not be forced to feel that narrowing your circle also means lowering your standards.