How many sets of dishes is too many for a simple life?
I don’t cook much. I don’t entertain big crowds. I don’t cater.
But I have an active imagination. That’s the only rationale I can come up with for the fact that I own six sets of dishes. That I know of–there are some boxes in the garage that haven’t been unpacked for a long time.
Some part of my brain must envision me having large dinner parties. Because I keep buying dishes. They’re like potato chips, I can’t have just one set. I sold a set last year, and recently gave away another. And yet, I still have six.
Here’s an actual conversation I had with myself recently, as I was buying a set of delicate bone china for six–teacups and saucers, salt and pepper shakers, creamer, sugar bowl and six smallish plates.
Me, to myself: “These would be great for a luncheon or tea party, they’re so pretty and different.”
Myself, to me, after I paid for the dishes: “You haven’t had a luncheon in–you’ve never had a luncheon. You don’t even use the word!”
It’s the gatherings I miss
I used to have dinner parties, both before and after I was married. As a single woman in Des Moines, in my twenties, I didn’t hesitate to have 10 people over for dinner, though I didn’t have a dining room table. I had a group of 10 or 12 close friends. We had garden parties, cookouts and, about once a year, one couple from the south would make fried chicken and creamed corn.
When I left Des Moines, the 10 or 12 of us had a dinner party at Cynthia’s house that I’ll never forget. Not because it was grand or elaborate. It was warm and intimate. A few of us rotated in and out of the kitchen while the others talked, drank and played games in the living room. The peonies were blooming in the backyard, near where we were grilling.
We were family.
When I moved to Philadelphia, my roommate and I had people over for dinner–Doreen had pink LuRay plates. She loved pink, and we hunted down those pink dishes all over South Jersey! After I married, my husband and I entertained often, first outside of Philadelphia and later in St. Louis. Some meals were more elaborate, others were very simple. Some were long-planned, others spontaneous.
We had friends, too, who had dinner parties. Penny and Warren Wood, Russell and Catherine Palmgren, Judge Garb and his wife, Joan. Thanksgivings at the Garbs’ Bucks County farmhouse, big fire burning in the library, Zeke arguing with Amit about the Constitution, wine flowing as freely as the conversation; the Palmgrens’ annual Boxing Day dinners, elegant and easy; too many meals at the Woods’ house to enumerate except to say they were usually memorable for unexpected interactions among guests, including heated political arguments and a near-divorce (not mine).
One Christmas, we attended a party in Bucks County in which everyone drank too much and talked and talked and talked. The next night, we went to a party in Chester, Pa., at which everyone drank too much and danced and danced and danced.
Here’s what I really miss: the camaraderie and community of a dinner party. Six or eight or twelve people sitting around the big oak table that–though it’s not my taste–I inherited from a great-grandmother. We’d drink copious amounts of wine, dig into salad, pass the lasagna or, more often than not, the coconut shrimp curry that is my ex-husband’s specialty, and laugh and argue.
Once, I remember, we had a British couple for dinner. Of the four of us, I was the only one criticizing the British occupation of India. Another time, we had a family of four for Thanksgiving dinner. Among other things, we served carrots with a little butter and brown sugar. “Mom,” gasped the 12-year-old son of our friends, “the carrots are drenched in butter.”
Kid, I thought, you don’t know drenched. I think my mother used a half-stick of butter on every bowl of broccoli or cauliflower or carrots she served us as kids. Max and I will still look at one another when a dish is particularly rich, roll our eyes and say, “Mom, the carrots are drenched in butter!”
Volunteer job feeds an addiction
After the divorce, life became more harried, the kitchen in my house was horrid and I got out of the habit of having dinner parties. I packed up the blue and white Rosenthal china my mother bought in Europe and gave me as a wedding present. At the time, I believed I would soon be leaving St. Louis. I would unpack the china in California, where I would again have dinner parties.
Well, I didn’t move. Who could move a son right before middle school, when he’d have to make friends–yet again–at a new school. We stayed in St. Louis, in a house I first rented, then purchased. I still thought I would have dinner parties again. That was 13 years ago. I wasn’t hosting dinner parties, but I was buying dishes.
In part, I bought them as a side effect of volunteering at the Miriam Switching Post, a non-profit store on Big Bend Blvd. that, as they say, is an “on-going estate sale.” The dishes–and other furnishings–are donated by people who are down-sizing, closing out parents’ estates or simply redecorating. Proceeds support the Miriam School, for children with severe learning disabilities.
Inevitably, there are dishes. Everything from beautiful bone china to pottery to Fifties era plastic dishes in acidic colors. And they sell for a pittance of what they would cost new, or what contemporary china costs. As with so many things, I can’t understand why anyone would buy new dishes. Never mind going to antique stores, just go to Goodwill.
The dishes, no matter how beautiful or how inexpensive, rarely sold. I guess it’s because people want what they want. In other words, they don’t want to select from the china at a resale store. Maybe it doesn’t fit their vision of what their life will be. Maybe the dishes just aren’t in style, or are too small. Maybe they don’t entertain as we used to (now I’m sounding like an old codger!)
I had to quit working at the Miriam shop. It was becoming the most expensive volunteer job I’d ever had. And my cupboards were filling with dishes (among other things) I didn’t need.
Recently, I did again entertain the idea of entertaining. About a year ago, I invited several people for dinner, to hilarious effect. . All I can say is that people I thought would mesh beautifully–didn’t! Those of us reduced to observers chuckle still at the memory of two alpha male guests jousting like bull elephants. One claimed to invent juggling, the other professed a fanatic dedication to his vegetable garden and vegetarianism. In its own way, the dinner was memorable.
But I haven’t had another one since. I haven’t served lunch on the German painted china. It’s been a while since I used the funky, lime green and cream, Stangl dishes from the Fifties. My Rosenthal is still wrapped carefully in newspaper, then tucked into a sturdy box. I’m finally moving and, as I pack those excess dishes, I find myself chanting an old nursery rhyme:
Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon. The little boy laughed to see such a sight–and the dish ran away with the spoon.
Got that, dishes?
Finding replacement china
If you’re missing pieces of your china, or want to fill in with additional pieces, try China Finders, at 2125 Cherokee St. in St. Louis. You’ll be astounded at the variety of patterns and pieces stacked in what seem like endless shelves. Phone number is:314-776-5900.
Replacements Ltd. is another resource. The on-line company buys and sells hundreds of patterns of china and crystal, both obscure and common.