I grew up in the 1950s being taught that things should match.
In those days, girls were instructed that pink clashed with red and that plaids mismatched with florals, so dressing with such combinations was considered a sign of lack of education. "Only poor people dress like that." Therefore, not only did our clothing match, but our furniture matched, our bath towels matched, and our bed sheets matched.
Even by age six I was well-indoctrinated. I got my first pair of glasses, making the world magnificently clear and beautiful. Daddy had let me choose my frames all by myself, too. I was happy! I excitedly ran to show Mommy my new glasses, cat's eye frames with narrow black and white stripes on the outer corners, chosen because they would MATCH with my black and white saddle shoes that I wore to school every day. I was proud and asked Mommy if she liked them. "Frankly, no," she said. "But they match!" I cried out. She wasn't interested. I was hurt and confused. I thought I'd done the right thing. Oh, well.
The 1950s drifted away and the psychedelic '60s exploded our culture, inciting us to "do our own thing." Challenging the establishment didn't just mean challenging the government, but also our common social practices. The tsunami died down but the waves of change continued.
My husband and I were in our early middle age when we married, so we didn't register for wedding gifts. Part of the ritual of a proper marriage included buying or being given new dishes, cookware, and utensils that all matched, but we were just happy to be together and grateful for what people gave us. We didn't need formal matching things because our lives were controlled by the need for the house to be wheelchair-accessible as well as pet-friendly. Pet-friendly and pet-proof are the same thing, right?
We are older now, and money is less plentiful. We still have pets, but different ones. Our parents are dead. This morning I was enjoying washing dishes with the morning sunshine pouring through the window. As the water poured over the utensils, I noticed that none of them matched.
I remembered that as a young single woman back in the '70s, I'd spent hours looking at wedding magazines, studying china patterns and silverware. Daring young thing that I was, I preferred stainless steel flatware instead of traditional silver because I just didn't want to spend time cleaning it when that time could be spent on more fun activities. The magazines showed dramatic patterns available from Finnish, Japanese, Israeli designers, designers from all over the world. However, life eventually crowded out the dream, as it has its way of doing. This morning I looked at what I had.
The faux ivory fork on the left was my mother's. She loved white, perhaps a soothing balm for the chaos of the schizophrenia that tormented her. When she died, my brother's family came from out-of-state for her funeral. They helped me disassemble everything in her apartment. I took some of her flatware even though I didn't really want it at the time. Nowadays when I look at the fork, I can hear her voice as she would hand me a plate heaped with Kentucky Fried Chicken and cole slaw on so many summer afternoon visits during the last years of her life.
The blue plastic fish spoon is left over from a carry-in at one of the monthly Gem & Mineral Society meetings where local rockhounds gather to show each other such treasures as fluorescent minerals, rough gemstones, fossils, arrowheads, and their own handmade jewelry. I've shared many happy evenings with these dusty people whose vacations consist of hiking around in quarries carrying buckets and wearing hardhats, gloves, and smiles.
The steak knife in the center is a childhood relic from the last century. I look at the grayed metal and can smell Texas beef, Au Gratin potatoes, iceberg lettuce salad with homemade dressing (mayonnaise mixed with ketchup), and Betty Crocker chocolate cake warm from the oven. The whole family was together then, for better or for worse.
The black plastic spoon is Tom's. He can't eat much by mouth since he fell almost two hundred feet in a Colorado park in the Rockies. He has a stomach tube into which liquid nutrition like Slimfast or Ensure is poured. I saved the spoon for him for those special occasions when he can work on a few half-bites of buttered sweet potato or pureed vegetable soup or maybe softened banana. Metal spoons bother his teeth and tend to get cold quickly, so the plastic is perfect. He's always loved the color black, even before it was a mark of being cool, even back when people used to say to him, "But Tom, black is so morbid!" After all the times I've spoon-fed him, it was great fun for both of us one day when I supported his hand so he could spoon-feed me a cup of yogurt.
The last utensil is both the newest and the oldest. I seemed to be low on forks somehow, so when my friend Betty and I went to the flea market last year, I kept my eyes and mind open. At a large table under a big tree, an old black man guarded items he'd collected from a major estate sale, including a velvet-lined wooden box containing a mixture of silver-plated flatware. Although tarnished, the forks were heavy and solid with intricate antique designs. I bought three. Ironic that there is actually silver in my silverware drawer now, and they have come to shine as if they'd been polished.
Although they don't match, all the utensils are relics, each one triggering a memory of another place and time, as well as the reality into which someone's dreams evolved or dissolved.
They match with life, and that's what counts. They are beautiful.