Tuesday, June 21, 2011
When Home is... Old Plates
It started when we dug up a broken piece of a plate in the back garden late last year. The pale blue floral pattern captivated me and I couldn’t help but wonder which owner it belonged to. It looked old, the pattern delicate, but surely it wasn’t a plate of John and Elizabeth Liddell’s?
Or was it? After all, they had seven children back in the 1890s so I imagine there were many broken plates over the many years they lived here. The kitchen/scullery would have been out the back, near where we dug up this piece of china, but who knows.
It could just as easily been from the owners who lived here in the 1990s and, from what I can work out from old plans, added the back living / kitchen room. After our recent renovation I have realised how many bits of rubbish – nails, screws, cigarette butts – can inadvertently end up buried under the rose bushes and gardenias... Yet, I like to think of this broken plate as a link from the present back to where it all began. The first family who called this house home.
When I found this bit of china I had already been thinking that we needed new dinner plates. Ours were all white and increasingly becoming chipped and crazed. I hadn’t been able to decide on the style of dinner set I wanted but now I knew.
While it was pure fantasy to try and find the exact match for this dug up piece of china, I knew I wanted old, English style plates and serving bowls.
It didn’t take long to start my new collection... finding a couple of blue and white china plates at the markets one weekend, some green ones at the same market another weekend. And once you start a collection it’s hard to stop really, isn’t it?
Collections run in our family and when my mother turned 40 she decided that for her party she would ask everyone to bring a plate. Not a plate of food but a plate. A plate of her friend’s choice, she would display on the lounge room wall. I think some of her friends were dubious, worried about whether they would find one she would like, one that would match the others but that wasn’t the point.
It had to be a plate her friend loved. Perhaps it was one they already owned or one they found at a garage sale or junk shop. That way it would become a plate representing that person. Instead of a wall of photos of her closest friends, she would have a wall of plates.
What none of us anticipated was how much those plates would come to act like photos. It’s amazing what a pattern, colour choice and age of a plate can tell you about someone’s personality. To this day I can stand in front of those plates and know the story behind each one.
It’s these stories behind objects that make them feel so precious. When I brought home a stack of old, slightly crazed, square dessert plates with a faded gold border and little green flowers painted around the sides a few months ago, I washed them and left them to dry on the side of the sink.
While talking to my sister on the phone, I noticed the children kept coming perilously close to them. Our conversation was punctuated with me shouting across the room ‘Watch those plates!’
My sister laughed, wondering how much I had paid for them to make me so nervous.But it wasn’t the fact they cost me $1.50 each (!) that made me nervous. It was the fact that I was already attaching myself to the story behind them; the morning spent fossicking at the market and finding them stacked unlovingly in a plastic tub was just the beginning of our life together. I was already imaging the future meals with friends and family when they would make their appearance. But what about the life they already had?
How did they end up as someone’s rubbish when once they would have looked quite grand? They may have been a part of someone’s wedding china. China only brought out for Christmas or birthdays for a family long, long ago.
A family like the family who first lived here.
And now a family like ours.