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 * * *


Star said...

Its the little things we inherit that mean so much to me. Things that will only be worth a little to someone else but are priceless to us. Keep them. They are gorgeous.

And if not, I collect Fiestaware and you can give it to me ;D

Widow in the Middle said...

What a wonderful collection - colorful and spirited! I was not aware of this kind of dinnerware - I collect McCoy. I think what we collect can say a lot about who we are.

During my recent move, I struggled about what to do with my husband's classical LPs (over 500 of them) and his books. I got rid of the LPs but packed 20 cartons of his books (he was a teacher) and put them into storage - for now.

I wish I could have asked him what he wanted me to do with these things. What do you think Gavin would have wanted you to do with the dinnerware?

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

I don't know what he'd want me to do with the Harlequin. I do know he wanted me to remarry and be happy, and also take care of my child, including financially.

I sold his LPs. More than 500, classic punk, etc. He'd be appalled but he'd understand.

The books -- I am selling many on
Amazon.com used for top dollar, giving away many, keeping many. He would expect no less. I am keeping the TITLES of all the books in case someone ever wants to know more about his artwork.

And I have the legacy of his 30 years of artwork (though I own only a small portion, it's still pretty impressive). I believe that it makes it easier for me because he had a concrete and important legacy which I have to treat really well and professionally.

So neat to find others who love this particular "stuff!" Got some response on Twitter, too. NEAT.



Abigail said...

Its funny. When Arron and I got married we registered for plain white Wedgewood. Then we moved to Europe, so we left it in the boxes it came in and put it in my father's basement. I eventually bought some cheap stuff and we used it for years, long after we moved back to North America and collected our stuff. The Wedgewood continued to sit in our basement. The cheap stuff got all chipped and nasty looking and so I finally took out the good stuff. At first we only used it for special occasions until one day, I just decided enough with the chipped stuff. And the funny thing? We use the good stuff every day now, and have not broken one dish and there is not one chip. Sometimes the good stuff is also the practical stuff.

I think the fun, colorful dishware will be a lovely way to combine your old life with your new one.

Bill Bradford said...

I *love* those dishes.


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