This morning it occurred to me that there is an impassible gulf between my expectations and what I am actually willing to pay for when it comes to my plates. Over 15 years ago now, when we were preparing to move across country from California to Colorado, I bought a couple of boxes of blue plastic picnic wear by Glad. The set came with 16 oz drinking cups, cereal bowls, and large and small plates. The Gladware was supposed to serve as a stop gap so that I could pack my kitchen and still not be reliant on paper plates during the moving process. The problem is, the stuff was great, and it gave me an unrealistic set of expectations for how well constructed, how long lasting, and how inexpensive informal dinnerware should be.
When we were settled in, I bought a set of Correl living wear, the kind that comes with dinner plates, cereal bowls, desert bowls, mugs and saucers. I treat the plates as if they were fine china, only bringing them out on occasions when I want to have a particularly nice looking table like Christmas and Thanksgiving. The rest of the time they languish beneath stack of mismatched, decidedly disappointing plastic plates. We do use the cereal bowls, desert bowls and the saucers. You can tell what we use and how much we use them by counting the different stacks of glassware in the cupboard. The plates still have their original 8, but there are only 5 cereal bowls, 4 saucers and 6 desert bowls. The cereal bowls rest beneath mismatched cereal sized bowls, but the plastic bowls are relegated to serving as impromptu side serving dishing, a place to empty a can of baked beans into before blasting them in the nukyerwave for a couple of minutes before dinner is served. We don’t actually eat out of them because I couldn’t find any that were the perfect cereal bowl size.
This brings me back to the Gladware and my unrealistic expectations of what I should be able to purchase and enjoy that its brief existence ingrained in me. For a season after our move, we had a beautiful set of semi transparent, nearly kid proof dishes perfectly sized for every day enjoyment. The dinner plates were a good size for adult breakfasts and dinners, the small plates were perfect for the kids when they were babies, or for a sandwich and chips at lunch for the grown ups. The cereal bowls weren’t too deep for cereal and soup but still worked well for heating up that small side dish at dinner. I got spoiled. When the inevitable started happening, and they started to wear out I tried to go buy a new set. Unfortunately, my pretty temporary set had lasted so long that by the time I went to purchase replacements, they had stopped selling them.
The first pieces to wear out were the small plates. Serving double duty as both baby ware and lunch plates meant they were the first pieces to meet their demise. I bought a cheap set of medium sized, medium blue ridged plastic plates. They were less than what I wanted in so many ways: they were less lovely, they were more ridged and they were not quite the right size, landing between the dinner ware and salad plates I was looking for. Still hoping to stumble across the translucent deep blue and perfectly sized Gladware, I bought them as a stop gap. I started with a stack of eight, and am down to 4. I cannot find my second choice plates now either.
My next attempts at replacement table ware were a set of red, lighter weight, less ridged, 4 for cheap plates in the seasonal dishes display. They were at least big enough to serve as dinner ware, and they were a fun color. They worked fairly well. When I went to buy more a year or two later, I opted to buy two more bundles of the red and 4 for cheap. It was only when we started washing them that we discovered that the second wave of the red plates were missing a small ring of reenforcing plastic around the bottom, so they don’t sit flat when something warm is put on them.
We have developed a hierarchy of who gets which plate at dinner. My husband and I eat off of the medium blue plates if they are clean, or one of the “good” red plates if not. The round bottom plates get used for the lunches and dinners of the guys who could care less what their food is served on as long as it is served in a timely manner. The ones that do notice such irregularities as a rocking plate get the reinforced ones. We end up using all of them most days, although I watch the blue ones for signs of cracking, as I figure its only a matter of time before the rest of them succumb to age too.
While I don’t fret about my tableware, there are days when I kind of hope to walk by the paper plates and find boxes of translucent cobalt blue Gladware waiting to be scooped up and taken to the checkout again. Having matching, perfectly sized, durable tableware was a treat I kinda miss. It would be nice to have pretty daily use plates instead of make do pieces whose biggest selling point is the number in the bundle. Sooner or later, age or the stove top will make my shopping for new plates inevitable. Maybe next time I will find something both pretty and durable, and will not find the price point the most compelling consideration when I make my choice. Until then, I am thankful for the enduring nature of my garish red plates, realizing that I have it far better than many folks.
Grace and Peace.