Magical Bowls

A while ago I warned you that I felt inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir and might write about the “secret life” of objects I hold dear (or in fear). Here’s the first one that I wanted to explore.

I only now have realized that the four snack bowls, speckled like the linoleum floor in my childhood kitchen, are melamine, not plastic. Maybe that’s why they are at least fifty years old and still have their little handles intact, although cracked.

When my parents moved out of their winter condo south of Tucson a few years ago, they decided to get rid of the majority of their furnishings, rather than cart them back to Kalamazoo. They urged us to take what we could of the wall art, furniture, and Dad’s craft pieces. My mom was amused when I grabbed the stack of dull brown bowls. “What do you want those for?” I wasn’t sure, but I knew I wanted them.

As long as I could remember, we had eaten Be-Mo potato chips, as well as vanilla ice cream and Hershey’s syrup whipped into milkshake consistency, from those bowls. When Mom kept out our hollowed tree branch bowl of nuts long after Christmas, we filled the snack bowls with smooth pecans and bumpy walnuts that gave way to cracked shell fragments.

The bowls were out at parties, but not for individual snacking. Mom filled them with her homemade Chex Mix and placed them around the living room. Her makeup and bouffant hair were already complete, a frilly half-apron tied around her waist, as she spread out party food, paper plates, and napkins. I placed the spoons and forks in angled lines. Lamplight and low music from the hi-fi set the stage.

As he beamed and told me silly jokes, Dad set up a temporary bar with highball and Old Fashioned glasses, cherries, olives, and a bucket of steaming ice. The anticipation of the party made a team of my parents and me, a protective shield against arguing and my father’s sudden mood changes.

At twelve, I was always hungry; my mother said I had a bottomless pit. When we counted up our daily calories in 7th-grade science class, I averaged 10,000/day. My parents were thin people and not big eaters, so meals were just what we needed for nutrition, no more. To fill up my cranky stomach, I would munch cooking walnuts and chocolate chips from a bowl I’d hidden under my bed.

I wonder today what my mother thought was happening to her baking supplies. And the sugar cubes she kept on hand to serve to company that stayed for coffee. Maybe there were other shortfalls in my life that my mother didn’t notice. In my imagination, as is the way of magical objects, the bowls are always brimming with delicious munchies.

Anybody want to play along and write about the secret life of an object? If so, please post the link in the comments here!

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On another note, you all (that’s the same thing as y’all without me co-opting southern talk, or “you guys” as we used to say in Michigan) know I love family history. You probably know I have a blog called thefamilykalamazoo.com about my family history. Now I have a new–a second–blog about family history. It’s called enteringthepale.com and is about the gardener’s family history from eastern Europe.

I think this new blog, which follows our search for his ancestors, is important work on a very small scale. I am talking about finding and recording the history of Jewish family branches that were either lost or decimated during the Holocaust. In the case of the gardener’s family, we just don’t know yet what happened to anybody or who or where his family was 100, 150, 200 years ago. That’s what I will be writing about on this new blog. I’d love for you to follow. Right now we have about one follower unless you count my twitter followers.

62 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing prompt

62 responses to “Magical Bowls

  1. I loved reading about your memories here, Luanne. Isn’t it funny how objects can spark such intense memories?
    I will have to check out your new blog. I don’t know anything about my ancestors lives in what was part of Russia, and certainly not where they were before that. Do you watch “Finding Your Roots?” I love that show. This week’s episode there were some Eastern European ancestry findings.

    • You are a great candidate to follow the new blog, Merril. (No pressure haha) I was debating whether to blog about it or not and a blogger friend who writes Jewish genealogy (but for mainly German and American history) told me to blog because it would show people that it is possible to get information from the areas that were part of the former Russian Empire. So far what we are finding is different than we thought, at least in part. I will be divulging slowly ;).
      I would love to watch that show. I am such a TV dummy.

      • OK. I can take a hint. 🙂
        The most recent episode is probably online. It’s on PBS.

        • I definitely need to watch. I’m always reading about it on genealogy blog. I will try!
          Haha, re my so-called hint. A hint with a sledge hammer.

          • I told you, I think, about my older daughter meeting Henry Louis Gates at the Philadelphia Airport when they were both flying back to Boston. Sometimes we both watch the show and text each other about it.
            I just extracted myself from under the sledge hammer and crawled over to the blog. . . 😉

            • Thank you so much for following! WOOT! So happy :). Yes, you did tell me about HLG and your daughter’s response. I really will watch an episode and see if I can squeeze the show back into my life!

  2. I remember melamine. I bought a nesting set of bowls by Rachel Ray because they reminded me of the speckled bowls my Mom had. I don’t know how you maintain three blogs but you have my utmost admiration!

  3. How interesting. I can see why you wanted these bowls. So many memories attached. I may take up your challenge. It sounds like fun.

  4. It’s funny how something as simple as a bowl can trigger so many memories. My friend’s mother had those same bowls!

  5. Aren’t you glad you took those bowls now? No matter if they are a bit battered and cracked; it’s the memories they spark that makes them special.

    • I am so glad I took them. And the gardener seems to like them. They are so much lighter weight than our stupid ceramic cereal bowls. (I am very down on my dishes as I would really like fiestaware).

  6. It’s wonderful you still have those bowls. Having a tangible object to rekindle our memories helps bring the past to life.

    • Sometimes I had soda with those bowls, too, I’m sorry to admit. But, of course, in those days it was a smaller amount of soda than people tend to drink today. We would have an 8 or 9 ounce bottle or sometimes even split that. It was a treat, not an IV bag hahaha (not funny, right?).
      As far as rekindling memories, you are so right. Anybody who has “writer’s block” should touch one of those tangible objects and start writing!

  7. This is marvelous, Luanne. Happy weekend hugs.

  8. Now I get the idea – about the secret life of objects…… I used to be very attracted to items that held memories or reminded me of memories. Nowadays not so much. I too am impressed with your blog juggling. I can scarcely manage one – as one post in three months proves. I’ll check out your other blog though, it sounds intriguing.

    • Isn’t that funny how your attraction to mementos has diminished? Maybe you know why or is it a mystery? I do like family heirlooms and mementos, but particularly am fond of the idea of how they get me started writing. Yes, your blog has been languishing, my dear, but I hope that means your art has been moving along rapidly!

  9. Such great memories in those bowls. I like the idea of writing about them to give them life. Thanks, Luanne.

  10. They are magic in keeping memories real and alive. Remember Bakelite?

  11. Interesting. I fell right into your story and almost felt sad when it ended. Well-written, that.
    My babies ate from melamine bowls and the bowls are in their baby boxes. I do not have any other ones.
    Growing up, my mother had a set of brightly colored dishes for soup and sandwiches/ veggies and hummus/ salad and bread/ chips and dip/ milk and cookies — Lil nosh dishes. The plates were kidney shaped, with insets in the small ends for wide, shallow mugs. I took them when I moved out. Four kids later, I had three pieces left and they went with my son when he left for school. I was looking for them when I decided I wanted to be a Fiesta (ware) person. If I ever find those, I will buy and buy them. So cheerful and colorful. Happy memories can definitely live in dishes.

    • Are you a Fiesta person? I so want to be one. Those dishes just call to me. But since my cats use Fiestaware at least I do get to use it a bit tangentially. hahaha Those snack dishes sound wonderful! Thanks, Joey, for your comments on the writing!

      • I am. I decided to Fiesta when we moved here, and I love it more and more as time goes on. My cats do not use Fiesta, they have one of those glass salad dishes that look like a frosted lettuce leaf — do you know what I mean? My mother had it in the kitchen, holding safety pins and change, lost buttons, that sorta thing.

        • Yes, I do know what you mean. With six cats, I need bowls that are super easy to clean–and that is Fiestaware. Plus they are safe–no weird chemicals in them. And pretty.

          • Yes. I switched to that bowl when I read that plastic bowls can cause chin acne. Sure enough, my big boy stopped having chin acne almost immediately!
            I lurve my Fiesta — I’m trying to get more people to love it so I have more people to swap colors and pieces with 😉

            • I switched over years ago for that reason but from plastic to stainless. Last year some vet tried to tell me now they were thinking metal caused acne. That’s why I started searching for a good ceramic bowl that wasn’t made in China–and how I came to know Fiestaware.

  12. Luanne, you have such a gift for story-telling, adding small details (bouffant hairstyle?) and small asides about your own feelings. Thank you!

  13. I loved this history of those magical bowls Luanne. One of the things I loved about Kin Types, which I finished and loved was the way the details brought those people and those times to life.

  14. I love your writings on the secret life of objects. I have many objects (well, a few) with secret lives. They seem imbued with history and emotion — silent observers of my family’s iife. It seems a callous disregard of history to throw them out.
    I will check out “entering the pale.” I’m intrigued, but as you know, way behind in EVERYTHING.

  15. I love the story of these bowls, Luanne! They “reveal” so much about your family history. I can just imagine the family being on their best behavior for company. It’s too bad your parents couldn’t see how hungry you were! But at the time, you were resourceful–taking whatever you needed to eat. Good for you.

    • Hah, no, they really didn’t get it about the food. That’s why I started cooking and baking. When I was 12 I made an elaborate Indian meal for my family, which completely mystified them as none of us had ever eaten Indian food before. I don’t know how good it was as I can’t imagine I had all the right ingredients! But I did win a blue ribbon for my brownies at the fair :). Thanks for stopping by, Patti!

  16. With all the treasured memories associated with your bowls no wonder they are magic. 🙂

  17. Ian

    Hah! My bowls were filled with goodies for OTHER PEOPLE, Luanne! 🙂 And 10000 calories a day! You must have had an incredible metabolism, to the envy of people like me who just look at chocolate chips and gain a couple pounds…But, seriously, it is interesting that we all have some talisman-type of objects that hold treasured childhood memories for us. I recall that one of the Halloween candy bowls was a compressed woven-wood type of thing that was part of a salad bowl set. Strangely enough, I was walking by a second-hand store just the other day and saw exactly that type of bowl and had my memory triggered. Serendipity strikes again!
    Now on my way to enteringthepale.com…

    • Hehehe. I sure wish I had that metabolism NOW! So don’t worry, it’s no longer true ;). I actually think that is how some of these so-called antique malls make a living today. They have the castaways of our childhoods and our memories get triggered and here is something we just have to have. For what good, I have no idea. Just to hold onto the memories, I guess. So happy you went over to enteringthepale! Did I mention to you that my mother-in-law grew up in Saskatchewan? I can’t remember if I mentioned that or not. The other side of my husband’s family, though.

  18. Pingback: Vintage Books and Glasses | wordsfromanneli

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