Blue Willow – Foreign Stories of Faraway Worlds

Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o’er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.¹

This is a story within a story, within a story.

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, we had a book sale at school, and I bought a few books, including Doris Gates’ Blue Willow, first published in 1940.  I took it home and read it completely in a day or two.  It captivated me.

First, it touched me, because it validated and amplified my parents’ stories of the Depression (a time that seemed quite far away and foreign to me) through the eyes of Janey, a girl my age.  I tried to imagine myself as the child of a migrant worker, having lost my mother, longing for a home of my own….  it was all so far from my own life.

But the book fascinated me on another level as well. At the heart of the story is a blue willow patterned plate Janey inherited from her great-grandmother, through her own mother.  To Janey, the design portrayed the beautiful home she longed for. For me, the story behind the plate’s design  was both romantic and sad, and the foreign artwork was exotic and beautiful.

The pattern tells the tale of star-crossed lovers, the daughter of a wealthy Mandarin and a man beneath her station. They escape together across a bridge, but are eventually captured and killed, then turned into birds. Legend has it the broken-hearted father created the pattern as a lesson to other parents, that they should listen to their children.

Many years later when I traveled to China, I found that everything was foreign – the language, the written characters representing concepts rather than letters, the lifestyle, the history.

We visited a number of beautiful sites around Beijing, and one of our favorites was the Summer Palace. There, I could imagine the ivory tower life of the Mandarin’s daughter, the escape across a footbridge, the willow tree setting.

The photos I took there in my own story reminded me of the story of the blue willow china pattern, and of the place a single blue willow plate held in the story of the little girl who found her happy ending.

Suddenly, it didn’t all feel so foreign.


Click on photos to enlarge them.

This post was written in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge on’s Daily Post. This week’s challenge topic is Foreign. To learn more about the challenge and to see the alien images posted by other bloggers, click here.

¹Blue willow verse and plate photo plate from Wikipedia:

This entry was posted in Photo Challenges, Ruminations and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to Blue Willow – Foreign Stories of Faraway Worlds

  1. Pingback: Weekly photo Challenge: “Foreign” In a different way! « Just another wake-up call

  2. Imelda says:

    There was a time when I was fascinated with collecting crockery and Blue Willows were on my top list. Your story made this design more interesting and wonderful to me. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  3. lly1205 says:

    My mother has a few pieces of blue willow in the china cabinet and I have always been fascinated by the story!


  4. adventuretraveleditor says:

    Wonderful story and great shots!


  5. Jo Bryant says:

    what a wonderful story – you had me all choked up


  6. adinparadise says:

    Lovely photos and story. I have a few pieces of blue willow china. I love them. 🙂


  7. Amy says:

    Beautifully writing, TRS. Love how you connect your own travel with the story, very moving… Thank you!


  8. sued51 says:

    I love your interpretation…very special.


  9. Madhu says:

    Lovely post TRS. Brought back memories of my small collection of willow pattern plates bought from flea markets in Goa! Gave them all away when I moved into this apartment!! Regretting it a bit now 🙂


  10. Lovely collection @TRS, fantastic! 😀


  11. Beautiful. The story and the plate. Thanks, RS.


  12. Happy endings always make me feel a little less foreign. Thanks for touching my heart with this lovely story within a story. 🙂


  13. eof737 says:

    This is brilliant… I love the poetry tied with the precious foreign items… Love this.. 😉


  14. Marianne says:

    For me, blue willow-patterned plates always evoke childhood memories, but what a lovely book for you to read, and now re-read with your grandchildren.

    One such book for me was Gerald Durrell´s “My Family and Other Animals”. Absolutely charming 🙂


    • All of my grandkids love books, and that just thrills me. Sharing the stories we loved as children with our own kids and grandkids is a real joy. My granddaughter just read the Little Princess and loved it! 🙂


  15. melouisef says:

    I have 2 thanks for this


  16. fgassette says:

    Wonderful written story within a story. I like the romantic interpretation of the blue plate and the star cross lovers. Thanks for sharing.


  17. Lovely story to go along with your photos. It is astounding the way books can make an impression on us at a young age without the realization of that meaning until many years later. Very touching ….


  18. Allan G. Smorra says:

    Your photos and story work well together in this post. Thanks for sharing your childhood memory and adult adventure.


Since you've come this far... I'd love to hear your thoughts or comments!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s