Owning the Past
Among Gavin's many treasures was an unmatched set of unmarked pottery, Harlequin, which he noted was "a cheap knockoff of Fiestaware." He collected the pieces with love, one at a time in antique malls and yard sales and we used the bright mixture as our formal china, for holidays and parties.
But if it hadn't been for the Hans Wegner-knockoff teak buffet (with an expandable table and ten chairs) that we bought to show the stuff off, the china would be completely dusty. We often disagreed about dinner. Gavin thought you should invite a gaggle of existing friends, including some terrific cooks, and make a new recipe. I prefer to treat guests to a favorite dish that I'm comfortable cooking, and my favorite part is designing the mix of people from different spheres. It was easier to take friends for Burmese than come to peace AND clear a year's business off the table.
And people do have different impressions about the Fifties. To a contemporary viewer, the super mid-Century hipness of the mismatched Harlequin complemented our old house's post-war metal kitchen cabinets and our spectacular dinette set. But to him, much older, they represented an atomic age that he had lived through. The red glaze on Harlequin ware was made with radioactive lead or something; an astrophysicist friend assured us that using it once in a while was safe "enough."
I always thought of this set as one of his more valuable non-artwork possessions so I held on to it. Now that I'm remarried, I have another chance to buy new china. And we're moving. I hate packing. I have a hard time deciding. I emailed a friend who deals in 50s furnishings: "Call me. I'm ready to sell the Harlequin." It felt like a big step.
But as I wrote up an inventory, I hesitated. Does that mean the buffet has to go, too? What about all the unmarked pottery I collected to match and display all the flowers our cutting garden would produce? And the coordinating placemats and party bowls?
Can't I get one set of china for both daily use AND parties? Do I need a separate set for occasions? That system is so bourgeois. This is a second marriage. It's not like we're registering. I can choose something I really love, and buy twice as much. I can let go of "Gavin's special this-or-that." That he loved.
I got sidelong glances from two people who know me well. Perhaps I was protesting too much. The Harlequin is only worth like $10 a piece, less because for some bizarre reason people want stuff that matches.
So I made up my mind. I bought strong boxes and bubble wrap.
Maybe we'll have dinner parties at the new house. Strangely enough, it's a split level, which Gavin would have loved, and although the kitchen is "updated" (um, to the 70s) the pottery will still fit. Even with a small garden, maybe those vases will get some play. Hosta leaves look nice.
I'm packing it up because now it's mine.
* * * Comments * * *