Writing Stories With Dinnerware: Fiesta, Friends, and Family

Family GeekMom
Fiesta plates. CC BY ND 2.0 by jprime84, via Flickr.
Fiesta plates. CC BY ND 2.0 by jprime84, via Flickr.

I realized today that it’s been ten years since we registered for our first dinnerware. Yes, dinnerware. You might at first glance think this a rather silly subject for a post, but I promise you, my geekiness goes in all directions. One of them is vintage and collectible stuff in general (especially the pottery variety–I watch a whole lot of Antiques Roadshow) and, well, it’s something that I always wanted to have. You know. A set. Something matching. Something meaningful.

What happened, exactly? Well, we registered for a set. But we never got a complete one. A few odds and ends, but nothing to be remotely proud of. After the following years of poverty (when we were married, I worked at Starbucks while going through graduate school, and Michael was working at Dominos) we never managed to cobble anything cohesive together. Then kids came, and I bought a bottom-of-the-line white set that, in the ensuing years, fell, cracked, chipped, and stained, to the point of no return. I winced at the idea of having to serve friends and family on them and, while they did their job relatively well, I was honestly amazed they lasted the four years they did.

While you might assume that my husband wouldn’t care one way or another about dishes, you’d be dead wrong. Michael has some specifications. Colors, not so much. But feel, heft, and general design–well, he’s got his opinions (even if he doesn’t know Corelle from Wedgewood). With my new job started, I knew he’d have to weigh in. I wanted to get myself something grownup. Something meaningful. Something that I could tell stories about.

Stories? You off your rocker, Barron? Let me back up a bit.

It’s a lesson I’ve learned from my beloved great aunt. She has a home filled with amazing furniture and antiques, and while they’re absolutely beautiful, they’re more than just objects. They all have stories.

She told me once how she collected a particular silver pattern with her husband, visiting thrift stores and flea markets all over place until they finally had the whole set–over a hundred pieces, down to the most unusual little spoons and speciality forks. Her silverware was more than practical; it’s one of the things she enjoyed doing most with her husband. Sure, they’re valuable. But they are so much more than the sum of their parts. They tell a story.

Her whole house is like this. There’s the secretary desk she picked out for herself, right there in Denmark, and had it shipped to the States. The Ansel Adams photographs she got signed while working at Yosemite, when she knew him. Or the little trinkets here and there which might not be worth much from a monetary standpoint, but reminded her of a friend or made her smile or she thought “odd but beautiful.”

Which is all to say I have no real interest in buying sets of matching plates and cups simply to have them. I could care less about Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel. Like most of my furniture, I wanted something practical and yet connected to something more. I really don’t shop to trends, and prestige isn’t an issue. Like I said, it’s about the stories.

Anyway, I’d been thinking about Fiesta for a long time. This iconic American dinnerware has been around since the late 1930s, and is easy to spot: it’s bright, modern, and classically glazed. The pitcher is particularly memorable. It’s survived the decades, and you can still find second hand and vintage pieces–all of which go perfectly with the current colors (and if you’re like me, it’s a more colors the merrier kind of thing, y’know?). Then I had a playdate with my friend Erin and our daughters, and she served me a delicious bibimap lunch in a fantastic, lemon yellow Fiesta bowl. She told me about her own experience and appreciation for the plates, and I filed that knowledge away as I happily downed vegetables and rice drenched in sriracha. She’s got a kiddo, too (and one on the way) so, for moms, the idea of having attractive and durable dinnerware is a pretty big deal. And she’s got a picky husband, too, so there’s that.

Then my friend Karen came to visit from Arizona, and I happened to mention to her that we were finally going to get rid of our hideous plates and get some Fiesta. She cackled and told me that she was doing the same, as her mother’s moving in with her (and is visually impaired) so they wanted to have bright, durable, beautiful dishes to color-code. Karen is a big fan of orange–anything orange–and so I decided to make sure that I got one of that color.

Once Michael approved.

If he would.

I told him the concept, ran it down in terms he’d understand. Best yet, I told him that I could add to the collection via thrifting (one of my favorite pastimes) and so we’d be building a collection over time. He knows my great aunt, and knows how much I love her, and he thought the idea was swell. We finally got to the department store, and he experienced them first-hand (ordering blindly online does not work for this family) and it was decided. Yes. This is where we start. Both kids were with us.

No, these won’t be heirlooms most likely. But our whole family was there when we bought them. Plus, I got a yellow set to remind me of Erin (who is bright and sunny, too) and an orange set to remind me of Karen (as I said before: ORANGE). And since dinner is a big deal around here (as we’re both self-professed hobbits) we’re going to be eating decades worth of food off these same plates, gathered together around the table that my husband’s father made, sitting in chairs I got from a thrift store in my parents’ town that were once from the barbershop. See? We’re making our stories. Just like that.

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9 thoughts on “Writing Stories With Dinnerware: Fiesta, Friends, and Family

  1. Oh Natania, this story touches my heart! We have been married almost 23 years and have never owned matching dinnerware. Or, not really. For the first decade of our marriage we used the huge set of dishes my mom gave us after our wedding. It was the pieces she’d collected from the grocery store, as they had one of those promotions where you get points when you buy groceries, then use the points to buy ‘their’ dishes. They were not at all a style I’d ever pick. But they were free and they were hardy.
    Really, too hardy. I couldn’t justify replacing them. When they finally started to break, I supplemented our cabinets with cheap dishes I’d find at the discount store. We ended up having four kids, with me only working part time, so money was tight for the decades we’ve spent raising kids.
    Dishes are something I handle EVERY day. I use them more than just about anything else in my house. And I’ve always been IN LOVE with Fiesta ware. I had a friend in MO who had cabinets full of them. She’d get them at garage sales and flea markets. She didnt have kids. She spent her money on Fiesta ware. And I was just a tiny bit jealous.
    The first year I wrote for GeekMom, I got an unexpected financial gain, when my links on Amazon prime hit some hot spots. Hubby agreed I could use the check to start my collection. It was my unexpected money, it would be perfect. But then something came up, and it went to bills…not even sure what bills, but it was quickly just…gone.
    Our move from NY to CO was supposed to put us ahead, financially. We’d built up tons of equity on our NY house With some of that windfall I was going to break down and FINALLY buy my Fiesta dishes. I knew where to get them at the best prices and knew I could add to the collection as the years went on.
    Then the housing market crashed the DAY we put our house on the market. We not only lost all our equity, we paid the buyers a good chunk of money to take our house from us. No more dishes money.
    About a year ago I broke down and bought one four piece set of the golden yellow Fiesta dishes. They sit on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets. A reminder that some day, some day I will have my set. In the meantime we are using a hodge podge of cheap WalMart Fiesa knock offs, that are cracked like crazy (and we only have the plates, no bowls). Mixed in are some orange plastic ‘picnic’ plates that will do in a pinch, when the sink is full of dirty dishes and it’s time to feed the six of us again.
    I can totally appreciate your dream of Fiesta dishes. This is the street I live on too. I’m happy you are filling your cabinets with happiness. 🙂

    GeekMom Judy

    1. Yay, Judy! I mean, not entirely yay, but yay! You understand. Writing this I had a feeling it was less than geeky. But you’re right. It’s something you use EVERY DAY. And it’s okay to have beauty in hand, it really is. My mom’s old Corelle lasted decades, and I still have a fondness for that, too.

    1. Yes, I have checked the lead issue! Definitely not good eats. And I’ll check Penny’s–I had no idea they sold it. Good tip!

  2. Wonderful! I feel exactly the same way. We’ve been using awful plates for years. My husband and I have our hearts set on hand-fired dinnerware made by a potter friend. Far pricier than most ordinary dishes, but heavy and compellingly beautiful. We’ve told him our plans, always a crisis or two behind actually buying the plates. Finally he told us to buy a piece at a time. So that’s what we’re going to do.

  3. I’ll always remember that we bought our Fiesta at the same time. And just after I’d visited you too! Now to see which household chips a dish first (my bet is on us).

  4. When I was a teenager I had a friend called Esther. She lost her father when we were twelve, just before I met her. In her home was a huge china cabinet filled with Portmeirion crockery. Her mother told me how they had started collecting it piece by piece when they were first married, they gradually built up an entire collection of it. I always knew that I wanted to do the same thing. When my husband and I married in 2013 we started our collection. As I am a Christmas junkie, we decided to do the pattern “The Holly and the Ivy” so my crockery gets used starting on the day after Thanksgiving and until we are sick of the snow in Maine, usually mid-February. My parents usually send us a few new pieces every year and I try to get to the factory store in England when I can. I definitely geek out over my dinner ware. http://www.portmeirion.co.uk/shop-by-range/the-holly-the-ivy.html

  5. Hi. For years we had corelle dishes, which eventualy discolored, chipped, etc. We then bought over the course of 5 yrs. the christopher radko Christmas dishes from target. After a while, they became our everyday dishes as well. I had bought some Fiesta dinner plates, cereal bowls, saucers and a platter in the 90’s at Penneys outlet store for 50 cents to 1.00 each. We still have those, 5 pieces of each. But we didn’t have enough, and mainly used the Christmas. 1 day I went to the mall and looked at the fiestaware. I was amazed at the new (to me) bright colors, but so expensive. We heard about the fiesta tent sales at homer laughlin in Newell, WV and decided to go last June, an 8 hour drive for us. I was able to buy locally some pieces, mostly more plates but different sizes, bowls. We used store coupons combined with their sales and found a few pieces at goodwill too. I made a list ahead of time before tent sale, as we needed serving pieces as well as canisters & mixing bowls. We decided to get different colors,which is good because a lot of the items at the tent sale are available there only in 1 color. I have fiestaware in 23 different colors. We went on 1st day, waited in line about 3 hours. Definitely worth it. Saved lots of money, like for a large disc pitcher $5.50. Reg. marked price in dept. stores 58.00. The dishes are a joy to look at, eat from and even wash, so pretty and bright. If you go, try to go 1st day, go around tent more than once. on our last go around, they put out sugar, creamer & lids, and the rangetop shakers. Also small round salt & pepper shakers. They give you a shopping cart when you go in, and they pack your stuff in boxes not too large, so they fit in your car. Next day we stopped across river in E. Liverpool, Ohio and saw the museum of ceramics (fiesta as well as others), the Hall closet outlet (has hall china and some fiesta), and went to a large antique mall. Area is beautiful, main attraction (besides fiesta) is outdoor activities like camping, hiking, etc. We stayed overnight 1/2 hr. away in Ohio (had to go that way anyway), motel prices lots less. Motels in Newell area were pretty high when I called. Did not go to factory tour, as they don’t have one day before or after any tent sale, we could not stay that long. But well worth trip if you want to get lots of fiestaware at a cheap price. They are seconds but you take a cloth or something to get dust off, look piece over carefully. Most do not have noticeable flaws. Pat

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