When I was 25 years old, I finally moved out of my parents’ house and started to live on my own. I mean really on my own– not a dorm room where my life was subsidized by my parents.
Previous to moving out, I saw Katherine Hepburn on a morning talk show. By this time, she had aged a great deal, but the spunk and magnetism of her character were still very young. She discussed dishes. She said that she had never owned matching dishes, a patterned twelve-piece set. She discussed how fun it was to have people over for dinner, and for everyone to get a different dish, a dish she had chosen during a random shopping trip.
I loved it! I thought it had such pizzazz. It was so creative and fun and quirky. Thus, I decided to start buying individual dishes when the mood hit me. Flowers. Stripes. Plain. Rimmed. All types of colors. Whatever I liked, I bought.
In my first apartment I had six dinner plates and six salad plates. None matched. It was a conversation piece.
When Tom and I married, although I think he thought this practice a bit unconventional, he indulged me in my follies and we continued to use my dishes, adding on every once and awhile as well.
Well, somewhere around the time we moved into our home, the winter of 2001, I realized not everyone thought this was extravagant and fun. Good friends of ours bought us a set of dishes for Christmas. The gift was thoughtful, by no means meant with malice, but I remember opening the gift and feeling misunderstood. I remember excusing myself from the room a few minutes later and literally crying, crying because it was not just these friends who thought my plates had a “college mentality,” but that the world was expecting me to be a 31-year old homeowner, wife, mother, and dish-set owner. I felt if I gave in and used these plates, I was giving up a part of who I was. My dishes were a part of me– mix-match, quirky, fun, and vibrant. Sadly, Tom liked the idea of having dishes that matched, so we actually went out and bought eight more. We had it: the matching set of 12 dining dishes, salad plates, and coffee cups. I resigned myself to the idea because everyone else I knew had matching dishes. It was the grown up thing to do.
For the past ten years, I have felt a sense of confinement every time I have reached for, eaten off of, or washed one of these dishes. I have felt boxed in by a conventional expectation.
This past summer, I realized, after I had emptied the dishwasher and all of the dishes were put away, that over time we had broken five dinner plates. We were down to a set of seven. Seven dishes in a cupboard is not enough for a family of five. Thus, I went into the basement and brought my miscellaneous plates out of storage. When the girls saw the plates for the first time, they were excited! They were all so different. The girls actually started fighting over who got the “good” plates, and they were angry when the “good” plates were in the dishwasher and they had to eat off of the old, boring ones.
Ah! My daughters brought me back to life. They made me want to enjoy the table again. Thus, for my birthday, I treated myself to two new plates. I am up to nine differently exquisite vessels of service, and I look forward to the next dinner party I have where people can enjoy the myriad of themes on my table, the motley presentation of colors, and the stimulating warm place of unorthodox acceptance.