It’s Not Breakfast Without Them

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on January 14, 2013

We were very lucky with Hurricane Sandy. Very, very lucky. I don’t know what piece of wood I knocked on or what four leaf clover is growing in our yard, but our basement never flooded, our backyard trees stayed upright, and we never lost power. My in-laws, however, didn’t make out quite as well, so we were more than happy to host sleepover parties at our house while waiting for their power to return down the Shore. Hey, we’ve got beds, blankets, tons of popcorn, and even more beer and wine. It’s a party every night here!

But when Dan and I went away for the weekend after the hurricane, leaving my mom-in-law to watch and lavish affection on the cats, I realized this would be the first time I left my kitchen completely unattended with a guest in the home. You know I have specific rules about what happens in my kitchen, but never before had I not been around to keep an eye on the goings-on. So I did what every careful homeowner would do: I hid my favorite cereal bowl and coffee mug.

cereal bowl and coffee mug
Come on, are you telling me there isn’t a bowl, a plate, or a cup to which you have some odd but stubborn sentimental attachment? It could be a childhood relic or a random Target find; it could be a treasured heirloom or something that snuck up on you after years of use. For me, it’s a cereal bowl I made at one of those paint-your-own-pottery stores, decorated with clumsy versions of Matisse goldfish (the same ones I have tattooed on my wrist), and a mug featuring a caricature of Jack Kerouac and his quote, “But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”

The mug has been my companion since college, when it got me through many early-morning writing sessions—and continues to do so fifteen years later. Heck, it was just pressed into service yet again at 7:00 this morning. The cereal bowl was added to the dinnerware cabinet a few years later, but what entered my life as a pass-the-time project on an autumn Saturday has become indispensable, being exactly the right depth and width for a single serving of Frosted Mini Wheats, Honeycomb, or Corn Chex. The bowl has a tiny white chip on its rim; the mug’s suffered a few scrapes and is probably due for another date with Bar Keepers Friend to remove yet another round of coffee stains.

mug and bowl 2
My husband doesn’t have any special, only-for-him dishes—he uses a few vintage Coca-Cola and baseball-themed glasses we picked up at our favorite Maine junk barn, but otherwise sticks to our regular, everyday dinnerware that came right off the registry in 2005. Fact is, he’s not allowed to use my personal bowl and mug, and knows exactly where to place them in the cabinets so they don’t tumble out and shatter into a million pieces. (If the dishes ever do break, I want to be the one to take sole responsibility for them, if only so I’m not placing blame and guilt on someone else for their demise.)

I know I’m a little crazy for forming such an emotional bond with these inanimate ceramic blobs. I sort of feel like a kindergartener who can’t get ready for school without her best pair of velcro-closure sneakers or dingy pink backpack. But these two pieces of fine china (I kid, I kid) are a touchstone for my bleary-eyed mornings. They’re the first things pulled out of the dishwasher to be used again, and the first things I see in the cabinet when I’m on autopilot. If I had time to only grab one in a fire, it would probably be the Kerouac mug, because it’s become something of a writing talisman to me—sometimes I don’t think I could write a sentence without it next to me, filled with the sweet caffeinated elixir of life. But let’s hope I never have to make that terrible decision.

So, a word of caution to all future houseguests and sleepover participants: you know you’re always welcome here. We’ll watch anything you want, from Dirty Dancing to Party Down, and cook anything you want, from Meyer lemon donuts to homemade pappardelle. And you can use any of the breakfast dishes in the house, from Alice in Wonderland-themed disappearing Cheshire cat mugs to lime green retro flared-rim bowls—except these two. Hands off, they’re mine.

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