08 September 2010

Wisdom Wednesday: Glasses in the Cupboard Rim Up or Down

So, this is my first blog theme post and I'm probably bending the rules. I am going to share Big Mama's wisdom, but also ask if others were taught this same habit. Big Mama was my mother's mother. Grandma, Granny, Meema, and Nana were names already used for other grandmothers in the family by the time Big Mama's first grandchild (me) came along. But I digress.

One of Big Mama's cardinal rules was that glasses and cups were placed rim-side down in the cabinets. I never thought of questioning this. It was just the way things were done. When I met my husband I had to teach him proper dish placement. His mother had not taught him this kitchen imperative.

A few years ago I heard a presentation about the Dust Bowl. The speaker said the habit of placing dishes upside down in the cupboard came about during those years when dirt and dust blew in through every little crack and settled into everything in the house. She didn't explain why only glasses and cups were placed upside down. The image of teetering stacks of upside down plates and bowls seems to clearly indicate why this rule didn't apply to those dishes. And she didn't have a source for linking this habit to the Dust Bowl other than her family lore. We all know how dependable that can be.

My husband's family was in Buffalo, New York, at the time of the Dust Bowl. My family, practicing this rule, was in Texas during the Dust Bowl years, but not the panhandle area where the Dust Bowl hit hardest. In the East Texas piney woods the rim-down habit could have easily been instituted due to bugs or plain old dust — unrelated to the wind whipping over the plains that had been stripped of the grasses that kept the soil from becoming airborne dust.

This is much too small a group to make a sweeping generalization. If you reply to this blog post, please tell me whether your family is of the rim-down or rim-up variety and where they lived during the 1930s. If I get enough responses maybe we can figure out where this habit comes from.

By the way, I devoured Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (Boston: Mariner / Houghton Mifflin, 2006). Even though he did not answer my critical social history dish storage question, his book is a great read. He interviewed many survivors of the Dust Bowl. His book includes the personal stories as well as the government policies that contributed to this American disaster.

© 2010, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved


  1. I was taught to store glasses rim-side down in the cupboard, but to keep out bugs, not dust. I learned this from my mother. In the 1930's her family was in Baltimore, Maryland, and in Brooklyn, New York.

  2. What an intriguing topic! There are so many everyday habits we don't even question...

    My mother's family lived in southern Manitoba, Canada in the 1930s and, although they didn't experience the worst of the dry prairie '30s in those parts, there was, I heard from Mum and grandma Scott (my 'Na'), often lots of wind and, ahem, the odd fly or two. Both Mum and Na were definitely 'rim down'. I used to put the dishes away as a kid, so I do remember that well - and both also very regularly wiped out the cabinets and put fresh paper down on the shelves too.
    I notice now that I am a 'rim up' person. So much for family heritage!

  3. My mom taught us to put glasses and cups rim down. She was born and raised in southeast Kansas and was in Kansas City during the early 30s and on to California by 1936. Another one of those things I do without knowing why!

  4. My mother always stored her glasses & cups rim side up--we lived in New Jersey. I do the same, probably because that's the way it was when I was growing up.

  5. During the Dust Bowl storms of the Thirties all of my ancestors were in eastern Oklahoma. I come from a mixed family of dish stackers -- the paternal side placed cups down; the maternal side put them up or on little hooks.
    While the dust storm story provides a logical reason for the down-side stacking, I doubt there is any truth to it. I lived in western Kansas during the dust storms of the 1950s and it didn't matter how you stacked your dishes -- the dust got on them and everything else.

  6. My mother was raised in western Kansas during the "dirty thirties." Both she and her mother always stored glasses and cups upside down in the cupboards. They said the dust was so pervasive that it easily collected in the cups and glasses between uses. They said without it, there was a good chance the dishes had to be washed before they could be used again.

  7. Thank you all for your comments. I posted a full discussion of the responses in a new blog post at http://debsdelvings.blogspot.com/2010/09/results-glasses-in-cupboard-rim-up-or.html

    A quick summary - 26 responders store glasses rim-side down, 2 rim-side up, 2 alternate glasses up and down to save space. The rim-side down responders do so to keep out critters, dust, both, and to allow the glasses to dry completely.

    Thanks for sharing your stories.