A life in plates

Today we went shopping for tableware, a process that I had never given much thought to until we started eating every meal at home. It became abundantly clear that the setting for ten that had dwindled to three or four with the recent shattering of another dinner plate couldn’t keep the pace of meal time for four in our household much longer. The collection in our cabinets now is either the fourth or fifteenth set we’ve purchased, depending on how you look at it.

The first set:

Technically I bought the first set myself. Kmart was having a going out of business sale (clearly, I purvey only the poshest of establishments for my tablescapes) and I was about to move out on my own. I made two purchases that day. The first was a $38.00 Bissel vacuum cleaner which refuses to die even now. Seriously, each time she sputters out I think it’s THE TIME. But a new belt or sweep of the bag (yes, I still buy vacumn cleaner bags) and she comes roaring back to life. The second was a Faberware tableware service for 12, all white, that included plates, salad plates, bowls, serving bowls and dishes and salt and pepper shakers. I don’t remember giving it much thought other than seeing the plates marked from $129.00 to $29.00 and thinking it was a deal. We still have many of the original pieces, just not enough to make a set.

The second set:

After we had moved in together, we bought the traditional “Florida lifestyle” patterned plates. Earth toned and drawn with coconut palms, this set lasted through the kids’ babyhood. We chose it as a starting point for us and I will always remember the missteps I thrust upon them in my attempt to become a housewife. After the arrival of the kids and subsequent lifestyle change, they were cast aside for the plastic tray type plates that are sectioned for kids who don’t like their foods touching each other. This coconut set will always remain my favorite for the depth of it’s bowls – the perfect vessel for ice cream.

The plates we bought but only used one night, or set three through thirteen:

When we were planning our wedding, we were working with a pretty straightforward budget; as close to zero as possible. We also had 126 people at our wedding. Right after Christmas, Target had beautiful white plates with gold detailing on clearance for $9.99 a set. We started stacking boxes (eleven sets of service for 12) into carts and drew a little crowd all of who rallied around us once they heard why we were buying it all. After our wedding dinner and without a proper staff to clean up, the plates were packing into Rubbermaid containers (by people whom I will be forever indebted to) then stored in a U-Haul overnight. The next day, we dropped the boxes off at my husband’s parents’ house while we returned the U-Haul. My mother in law washed each piece by hand and had restacked them in cleaned containers for us when we returned; a gift unparalleled.

For years, those plates inhabited our lower cabinets until our kitchen gadgets grew to include things like a giant stock pot, a blender, a quesadilla maker and other odd shaped devices that needed the real estate. We packed them up and displayed them on the driveway where we advertised their modest price (FREE!!). Before I had all of the sets out a woman stopped to load them into her car. She explained that she had multiple weddings to attend and was planning on gifting each of the couples with a nice set of table ware. My husband saved one plate which he inscribed with our names and wedding date and on a whim I saved the salt and pepper shaker sets. I think we should be in a good way with replacements for at least the next thirty years should I break a few.

The third set:

When we had outgrown the coconut palms and their kitsch, we settled on a darker porcelain bamboo inspired set. I loved the sleekness of the black bases, the depth to the plates and width of the bowls. If only I could keep myself from dropping them. A few salad plates fell to their demise when I neglected to get oven mitts to take an item from the microwave and others still met their untimely deaths when little hands tried so carefully, yet couldn’t make it to the sink or counter just yet.

The final set:

Which brought us to today; we had talked about needing one final set – like grown-ups we guessed should have. If we had a unified theme it would feel more put together – our meals would be more of an occasion as we took pride in a unified set, perhaps. We looked at three different stores and online before stopping into the place we knew we just wouldn’t find something – Walmart.
It was our last ditch attempt before giving up for the day, we were tired and hungry and debating the necessity for plates all together when we found the perfect sets. Smooth and sturdy, both purposeful and open to any possibility you could pile on them, almost symbolic of our ten year marriage, they waited for us. My husband packed up what remained of the sets that had come before and together we washed, dried and arranged the new residents into our cabinets, it was almost a shame to see the doors close. Tonight, the four of us ate dinner in matching deep bowls that held our own versions of the same meal. We had grown and changed but come full circle, to an accommodating group ready to take on anything.


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