People have addictions. It might just be that you overload on bowls of pasta while Netflix-binging on ‘Will and Grace’ every Saturday night, or that you secretly smoke cigarettes in the pantry between the shelves of canned pickles and paper towels, or worse inclinations that require serious help; mine (well one of them anyways) is purchasing dishes.
Dishes do something to me. I get mentally and emotionally elevated, dreamy and romantic; I get downright high. My eyes become fixated on the color and pattern. My fingers almost erotically find pleasure in the smooth curve of the plate or comfortable fit of the handle. If I am anywhere near dishes in a store, I find myself so distracted by a set, or maybe even one piece, that I can’t look at anything else. I circle back around, walk up and down that same aisle, and stalk any other shoppers who move toward the object of my desire. All the while, I’m imagining a million ways I could dress my table with these delicate obsessions or how they can be perched behind some other trinket in a vignette in my dining room.
I should be over this. I’m almost sixty years old, for goodness sakes, and everyone around me is reminding me that I should be giving away all my crap, that I should be down-sizing not adding more to my stockpile of stuff. I get that, and feel that, for the most part, but not when it comes to dishes. If time is good to me, I’ll have many more Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving Day meals to host as the grandchildren are making their arrivals. I don’t use paper or plastic plates so they’ll have to eat off of something, right?! I really want to ‘entertain’ again, like in the old days, with interesting people enjoying deep conversation and hardy, belly-filled laughs and teary-eyed toasts across the comfortable ambiance of my candlelit tablescape. I still have plans that involve dishes, so I’m justified, right?
The problem is I don’t have any more space to store all these lovely, mostly vintage china pieces. The Inn is full. I know the obvious solution. It’s time to get rid of some of the others, but that’s the thing. The ‘others’ hold the memories that have graced my table for years and whisper of Sunday dinners and homespun conversations with our kids, every time they are placed on the table. They mean too much to me and besides, I hope that at some point my daughter, or daughter-in-laws, maybe my grown granddaughters may want to inherit them. Maybe. It’s hard to say these days, but it doesn’t seem to matter where they will go after I’m gone. I like having them NOW. Apparently, I’m a dish-whore or hoarder; I’m not sure which is worse. But, let’s just say it sweetly, I’m a lover of beautiful things, primarily dishes, some of which I must possess.
A couple of month ago I was spending the day with my daughter in a beautiful, quaint Texas Hill Country town, a place where charm and historic homes just seem to command, ‘You must buy something while you’re here!” I had braced myself for this, did a lot of self-talk on the road, and asked my daughter to ‘stop me’ if I got too caught-up in any dishes, “I simply don’t have any more room, Sweetie, so remind me of that when the time comes.” Much like a recovering alcoholic who isn’t ready to sit in a bar, it didn’t work. All the promises I made to myself went right out the door and across the gingerbread porch of the antique store we were in, as soon as I saw the perky pattern and colors that could be used in just about any season, hidden inside.
At first I saw a few orphaned plates of blue and white that called to me, but I was strong and just gave them a knowing sigh as I moved on. I chuckled at all the ‘antique’ dishes on display that were from MY time, MY youth; stuff my mom got at the Montgomery Wards and Sears & Roebucks. Are we antiques already? That’s just plain weird.
Then I saw my daughter off in another section staring dropped-jaw into a large glass, upright display case. Walking towards her, she waved me off, told me not to come her way, ‘Mom…just don’t!’ Too late, I was there, opposite her on the other side of the glass completely captivated, mesmerized, in love; I was a goner (as us antiques used to say).
Simple, yet elegant, with a dancing line of gold, orange, green, even pink flowers around the edges, held in by a metallic gold rim (something that has never before appealed to me); Epaig ‘Stratford,’ made in Czechoslovakia; it was like I found my long, lost love of the dish world. Youthful, yet pre-1950s vintage; playful, yet serious; light enough for Spring, warm enough for Autumn; a whole serving set on sale for only $100. Let’s be real, I could go to Target for toilet paper and end up spending twice that much on a bunch of nothing; why look away from this?!
We just stood there, my daughter and I, silently staring for quite some time, both knowing what the other was thinking, “I don’t have room. Dad’s going to kill you if you bring home another dish. You already have enough dishes to serve a small village. Don’t do it, mom. No, I can’t…” I walked away….several times…but I was drunk on the beauty of them, injected with the poison of mealtime pleasure, aglow on the anticipation of spreading a beautiful table, and weak-in-the-knee by the thought of hand washing them; I could feel their fragile strength warm and sleek in my soapy hands.
I bought them.
It was tough, on that hot Texas day, getting three huge boxes of individually wrapped dishes into a small car with a trunk the size of a bread box, but of course we did it…with a little swearing and a lot of sweat. I got home to an empty house, and painstakingly rushed them into the house alone (having to take them out of the boxes in small loads, since I couldn’t carry the weight of the boxes), and hid them, yes hid them, in the closet under the stairs.
The dishes have been in-hiding since that summer day.
Tonight, while a roasting pork loin filled the kitchen with a warm aroma of home, I systematically (okay, I snuck in-and-out of the closet) retrieved enough of my secret stash for a four-place setting. When my husband sat down, he said, ‘Oh no, what is this?” My son’s girlfriend, who was not privy to my dish ordeal at all, immediately commented on how lovely they were. Thank God for womenfolk! So, I revealed that I had fallen off the wagon and bought a lovely set of dishes at a great price! I admit I strategically planned to bring them out when company was present. It worked.
Surprisingly, he liked them (though he didn’t know just how many were stuffed under the stairs). Just the same, the hardest hurdle, the great ‘reveal,’ was over and now commencing with the storage issue would just work its way out. It always does. This isn’t my first auction haul!
As the evening wanes in a peaceful glow of acceptance, all the hand-washed dishes are stack proudly on my counter waiting for me to give them a comfortable shelf to dwell on, and my hubby is joyfully discovering facts about the vintage pattern, for if anything, he too appreciates time-worn things. It’s kind of sweet of him. It’s moments like these that he reminds of my father, who used to turn into a little kid whenever my new recipe cards from ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ would come in the mail as I was preparing for wifedom in the 1970s. He and I would spend hours combing through the recipes in the warmth of the kitchen light. When it comes to my husband, space or no space, it seems antiques continue to be our comfortable common ground.
You see, dishes, like recipes and meals, bring people together. Everyone has a memory of someone special at the glance of a familiar dish pattern. We see our aproned grandmothers and aunts bending and busy in the kitchens we loved, our mothers giving us the honored tasked of ‘getting out the good dishes’ when the hungry smell of a holiday dinner was filling the crowded house. Dishes clink and slide, stack and hide in all of our memories, and I am very much connected with that scene, mine and theirs, from the heart of the home, the kitchen.
From leaf-laced, autumn patterns to Blue Delft old-world charm, country white plates for simplicity, Christmas Spode gems, and round oatmeal glazed bowls just right for soups and stew, to bunny-shaped Easter favorites that the kids still love to see; my cupboards are filled with much more than porcelain artifacts. My dishes help tell the story of our lives. There is historic sweetness in a set of pink flowered, silver-rimmed dishes from my mother-in-law’s days of collecting dishes at the movie theatre one movie and dish at a time; I can see her trim and proper, with a huddle of blond-haired kids straight out of the “Dick & Jane” children’s book series, anxiously walking down her small town Midwestern street headed for the cinema and another new plate! Like the visual pleasure I receive from my 1950s era ‘Currier & Ives’ Royal blue village dishes which beckon back to my days around the crowded table of my parent’s house and the cupped aroma of coffee on cold Michigan mornings at our wood-smoke cottage; 1970s stoneware comes with a song; Transferware can transport. They all speak of places I’ve lived and people I’ve loved; each has a story, evokes memories, and allows for the pure pleasure of creatively setting a lovely table.
Have I justified my purchase with passion and purpose? Ha! I always say, if a thing doesn’t give you pleasure or serve a purpose, than it’s time to let it go.
All in all, it’s a harmless addiction, obsession, or hobby, whatever one wants to call it. It could be worse. I could collect unicorns, or gum wrappers, or expensive Italy leather shoes. In time, as time so cruelly will do, I’ll give them all away to someone else with kitchen memories and table dreams, while we finally empty our cupboards and down-size and succumb to the reality of Chinet disposable dishware. Ugh! Until that dreadful day, I’ll keep making memories, one delicious dish at a time…and, for sanity sakes, go on hiatus from browsing antique stores!