Writing Stories With Dinnerware: Fiesta, Friends, and Family

Fiesta plates. CC BY ND 2.0 by jprime84, via Flickr.
Fiesta plates. CC BY ND 2.0 by jprime84, via Flickr.

I realized today that it’s been ten years since we registered for our first dinnerware. Yes, dinnerware. You might at first glance think this a rather silly subject for a post, but I promise you, my geekiness goes in all directions. One of them is vintage and collectible stuff in general (especially the pottery variety–I watch a whole lot of Antiques Roadshow) and, well, it’s something that I always wanted to have. You know. A set. Something matching. Something meaningful.

What happened, exactly? Well, we registered for a set. But we never got a complete one. A few odds and ends, but nothing to be remotely proud of. After the following years of poverty (when we were married, I worked at Starbucks while going through graduate school, and Michael was working at Dominos) we never managed to cobble anything cohesive together. Then kids came, and I bought a bottom-of-the-line white set that, in the ensuing years, fell, cracked, chipped, and stained, to the point of no return. I winced at the idea of having to serve friends and family on them and, while they did their job relatively well, I was honestly amazed they lasted the four years they did.

While you might assume that my husband wouldn’t care one way or another about dishes, you’d be dead wrong. Michael has some specifications. Colors, not so much. But feel, heft, and general design–well, he’s got his opinions (even if he doesn’t know Corelle from Wedgewood). With my new job started, I knew he’d have to weigh in. I wanted to get myself something grownup. Something meaningful. Something that I could tell stories about.

Stories? You off your rocker, Barron? Let me back up a bit.

It’s a lesson I’ve learned from my beloved great aunt. She has a home filled with amazing furniture and antiques, and while they’re absolutely beautiful, they’re more than just objects. They all have stories.

She told me once how she collected a particular silver pattern with her husband, visiting thrift stores and flea markets all over place until they finally had the whole set–over a hundred pieces, down to the most unusual little spoons and speciality forks. Her silverware was more than practical; it’s one of the things she enjoyed doing most with her husband. Sure, they’re valuable. But they are so much more than the sum of their parts. They tell a story.

Her whole house is like this. There’s the secretary desk she picked out for herself, right there in Denmark, and had it shipped to the States. The Ansel Adams photographs she got signed while working at Yosemite, when she knew him. Or the little trinkets here and there which might not be worth much from a monetary standpoint, but reminded her of a friend or made her smile or she thought “odd but beautiful.”

Which is all to say I have no real interest in buying sets of matching plates and cups simply to have them. I could care less about Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel. Like most of my furniture, I wanted something practical and yet connected to something more. I really don’t shop to trends, and prestige isn’t an issue. Like I said, it’s about the stories.

Anyway, I’d been thinking about Fiesta for a long time. This iconic American dinnerware has been around since the late 1930s, and is easy to spot: it’s bright, modern, and classically glazed. The pitcher is particularly memorable. It’s survived the decades, and you can still find second hand and vintage pieces–all of which go perfectly with the current colors (and if you’re like me, it’s a more colors the merrier kind of thing, y’know?). Then I had a playdate with my friend Erin and our daughters, and she served me a delicious bibimap lunch in a fantastic, lemon yellow Fiesta bowl. She told me about her own experience and appreciation for the plates, and I filed that knowledge away as I happily downed vegetables and rice drenched in sriracha. She’s got a kiddo, too (and one on the way) so, for moms, the idea of having attractive and durable dinnerware is a pretty big deal. And she’s got a picky husband, too, so there’s that.

Then my friend Karen came to visit from Arizona, and I happened to mention to her that we were finally going to get rid of our hideous plates and get some Fiesta. She cackled and told me that she was doing the same, as her mother’s moving in with her (and is visually impaired) so they wanted to have bright, durable, beautiful dishes to color-code. Karen is a big fan of orange–anything orange–and so I decided to make sure that I got one of that color.

Once Michael approved.

If he would.

I told him the concept, ran it down in terms he’d understand. Best yet, I told him that I could add to the collection via thrifting (one of my favorite pastimes) and so we’d be building a collection over time. He knows my great aunt, and knows how much I love her, and he thought the idea was swell. We finally got to the department store, and he experienced them first-hand (ordering blindly online does not work for this family) and it was decided. Yes. This is where we start. Both kids were with us.

No, these won’t be heirlooms most likely. But our whole family was there when we bought them. Plus, I got a yellow set to remind me of Erin (who is bright and sunny, too) and an orange set to remind me of Karen (as I said before: ORANGE). And since dinner is a big deal around here (as we’re both self-professed hobbits) we’re going to be eating decades worth of food off these same plates, gathered together around the table that my husband’s father made, sitting in chairs I got from a thrift store in my parents’ town that were once from the barbershop. See? We’re making our stories. Just like that.

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Natania Barron is a Gryffindor, a Took, and a Greyjoy (mostly because of the squid).