The Significant Other is like a bull in a china shop. That is the image that usually goes through my mind when I take a dish out of the kitchen cabinet and see the condition of it. My dishes, which are a conglomeration of two different patterns inherited from my mother and a grandmother-in-law, have gone through three generations. There are a few pieces I acquired when I got my very first apartment and a few more gathered along the way. With a minimum of accidents, they have made it through our large family when I was growing up. They made it through a number of relationships, two children and two step-children, their friends, a couple of long-term roommates, a multitude of holidays and an ongoing flow of guests. They survived probably close to thirty moves, including four from coast to coast – and that is not an exaggeration. My feeling is that these are made to be enjoyed and used. And yet, as soon as I moved in with The Significant Other, those dishes began to chip and break with increasing regularity. Whenever I hear a crash and “Oh, shit!“, my heart sinks for a second. Then I try to take it in stride.
The Blue Willow plates. The Italian coffee mugs. The Williams-Sonoma bowls. A little white ceramic microwavable plate from the first class section of a defunct airline that my mom found in a close-out, raving about how it was the perfect size. “Oh, shit!” I will admit that losing that one, plain as it was, upset me. Not because it was the perfect sized little dish that she “got for only a dollar”, but because I remember that day we spent together – her voice, her face, her delight. When I used it, I would always recall that moment, if just for a fraction of a second. Now that part is gone.
Years ago, in my communal living hippie days, a few of us were busy preparing a large dinner, milling around the kitchen with the music blasting, having fun. One of the guys, a visiting guest, was in the process of taking a Pyrex baking pan out of the oven and placing it on the counter, when it suddenly made a popping noise and shattered right in his oven-mitted hands. The action stopped for a moment. Somebody said “Wow” and someone else laughed. But the woman who had contributed the Pyrex pan to the group cause burst into tears. We all looked at her like she was from Mars. It’s a Pyrex dish. Just a glass dish. We can get you another one. Bummer about dinner though. Through her sobs, she said, “That baking dish was my mother’s.” Her mother had died when she was a young teen. She had other things from her mother, but now there was just one more piece of her mother gone. I didn’t get it then. I get it now.
I don’t think there are more than a few unchipped dishes left in the house. In the beginning, I was sure that the SO must be acting out some passive/aggressive stuff for some reason. How could this be possible? Why does he do this? What’s wrong with him? Maybe he doesn’t like the dishes because they were mine and from the past? Maybe it’s because I care about them and he thinks caring about dishes is stupid? I used to think that, but now I think there is more to it. He’s generally rough on things – he drops plates in the sink, slams them down on the table, leaves them on the very edge of the counter or coffee table, just waiting to be knocked onto the floor. He has no qualms about taking a knife and using the tip as an impromptu screw driver, or using a fork to pry open a paint can, even though he has a house, a basement, a barn, and two trucks filled with tools. He does not discriminate. The flatware is in about as rough shape as the dishes. The tips of the knives are bent, the fork tines are at crazy angles. We bought some new dishes together and he breaks those too. He would prefer if all the dishes and glasses were plastic. He just is not conscious of it and he just does not care. I consider it one of his mental illnesses. Conversely, he considers my attachment to stuff one of mine. But that is another story.
OK, I have attachments. I will admit that I love some of my stuff. Unfortunately, it is one of those traits I have trouble transcending on my path to enlightenment – the gathering and keeping, the holding on of “things”. It is only particular things though. The possessions that I am attached to are the ones that have people, or stories behind them.
Mom loved her dishes and kitchen ware. She grew up poor, and so everything she saved for and bought was carefully chosen and lovingly cared for. I still have one of her Revere Ware pots that must be almost sixty years old. She kept them nice and used to polish the copper bottoms. She bought me a set of my own when I was first married. When I find them sitting in the sink with the bottoms burned, I try not to get even a little upset. At this point I am just weary.
My mom also had a few decorative plates from Portugal that were given to her for her bridal shower. She called all these things part of her “trousseau”. Some of the plates hung on the wall in her kitchen. When she died, her “trousseau” plates joined my collection. I tended to follow suit and was soon hanging up plates that I had collected here and there.
I was upstairs cleaning the bathroom and the Significant Other was downstairs, actually vacuuming one Saturday morning, when I heard the familiar “Oh, shit!” On one wall I have a number of plates from Morocco and three from Turkey. The ones from Turkey are very old to begin with, and I have had them close to thirty years. Out of the three, there is one that is my favorite. You guessed it.
I gathered the shards from the dustpan and laid them out on the table to see if I could repair the plate. It’s in pretty bad shape – some of the pieces are dust. He said, “You’re crazy, you aren’t going to be able to put that back together”. And then he said, “Well, you are going to Turkey in a couple of weeks, you can get another one when you are there”. But it’s not the same, and I deliberately didn’t get another one. You cannot bring back the past; you can only create a new past in the present to look back on in the future. Life is transient, I know that. But still….
The broken plate has been sitting on a large piece of paper on the dining room table for over three months. That is because I can’t locate the special glue I bought last time there was an “Oh shit!” event. I haven’t put it together to get more glue, sit down and try to arrange and repair this ceramic puzzle. The SO says the glue is not going to hold it. I don’t know; it was so pretty, I just don’t want to throw it out yet. If this doesn’t work, maybe it can be used in a mosaic. Of course, I am not making mosaics, although in metaphor, creating a mosaic out of the shards of our lives is probably a healthy thing.