10/10/12

The Broken Bowl

As far as bowls go, this one was nothing special.

It wasn't particularly beautiful, nor was it artistic or unique in any sort of way.

When my husband and I moved into our first house, my mother-in-law came over one day with a large cardboard box.  "Dad and I are moving into the condo next month" she announced, "and I thought you two could use some of these things for your kitchen!"

We unpacked the box together, and as each item was pulled from its corrugated confines, my mother-in-law told me where it was from, what they used it for and sometimes, a funny little story that involved said item.

There were clear glass bowls, and salad plates, and kitchen towels.  A pitcher, a platter and then, she pulled out the bowl.

As I said before, this bowl isn't breathtaking.  In fact, looking at it now, I'd say it is rather dated.  It belongs in a kitchen heavily accented with hunter green and cranberry red.  With some gingham-checked seat cushions and matching valences.

It's a pasta bowl.  A very large pasta bowl.  At the time, it was just my husband and me, just the two of us, and I remember thinking to myself, "Yikes...what would I use that for?".  Our meals back then were small, simple.  Often take out.  Never a huge meal that would require a vessel such as the one before me.

After she left, I got busy washing, and putting away, my new things.  The bowls were used immediately, for they were the perfect size to hold my nightly pregnant-lady portion of peppermint bon-bon ice cream.  The small salad plates were ideal for our sandwiches and individual slices of lasagna or pot pie, whichever was chosen from the freezer for that evening's sup.

Then the children arrived.  One after another, boom-boom-boom-boom.  As they grew bigger, so did our meals.  As any mother knows, pasta is a childhood staple, and as my brood burgeoned, I found myself reaching for that giant pasta bowl with increased frequency.  At least twice a week I placed it in the middle of the dinner table, the steaming mound of spaghetti or linguini or penne glistening with butter and slowly melting parmesan cheese (sauce on the side, of course, as any mother knows).

Too large for the dishwasher, this bowl was diligently washed after these meals, dried and put away in its spot in the cupboard above the double oven.  If I had to hazard a guess as to how many meals it served us during our marriage, I'd say well into the hundreds.

And then our family broke.

My husband left.  He took nothing with him, only his golf clubs, his suits and his car.  His new life awaited him, you see, and I think taking reminders of the old one scared him.  Intimidated either him or his new love.

So I was left with the children, the house, and everything else.  Including the big bowl.

Our lives took many dramatic turns over the next few years.  When my ex-husband stopped paying child support, the turns became plunges into dark abysses, and we eventually lost that house with the double ovens and the arched doorways and the granite countertops.

Our new home, the rental I was able to get thanks to an angel disguised as a landlord, has a big kitchen.  It's not fancy like my old one, but it'll do.

I've now become a master pasta maker, it's amazing how crafty one becomes when faced with near-poverty.  A few eggs and some flour become dinner, and a delicious one at that.  Many nights we have sat at the table, our big pasta bowl filled with thick, hand-cut noodles (with sauce on the side, of course).

We just had that dinner last night.  The pasta bowl sat in the sink this morning, waiting patiently to be washed and put away in its new spot, the storage cupboard by the stairs.

I didn't get to it before going to bed.  I've been working a lot, and my kids still haven't grasped the concept of lending a helping hand when it comes to dishes.  Or anything else, for that matter, but that's another story for another time.

So this morning, I saw the bowl and despite knowing better, I tried cramming it into the dishwasher.  I stuck it in there, on its side, and almost immediately it fell over, hitting a plate.

I knew what had happened before I looked.

Our bowl was broken.

Our beautiful pasta bowl was broken, lying there in the dishwasher like a ceramic Humpty Dumpty.  I was surprised at the emotion that flooded over me as I picked out the tiny shards and the bigger pieces.  And as I stood there in the kitchen, the dark autumn sky slowly lightening up outside, I tried to put it together again.

My son Henry walked in at that moment.  "Oh no!" he said in his sleepy Peter Brady adolescent voice, "our bowl!".  He tried, along with his mom, to put the pieces back in place.  "Can't you glue it?" he asked me, with a look in his eyes that made all of my mommy-senses ache.

"I don't think so, Henry"

He pondered the broken bowl, and said, "But we've had this bowl forever.  What are we going to use for spaghetti now?"

I shrugged.  "I don't know" I said.  "We'll have to find another one."

As each of the kids made their way into the kitchen after taking showers and getting dressed, their eyes settled on our broken bowl, sitting on the counter.  Their reactions were all eerily similar:  a gasp, a statement: "Our bowl!" and then they'd touch it, try to put the pieces together.

I didn't have the heart to throw the pieces in the garbage before I left for work.  I left it there, on the counter.  And as I drove along the highway, the brilliant October sun shining so brightly on the morning commuters...I thought about our bowl.

I thought about how we, as parents, break our backs and sometimes our checkbooks trying to ensure that our offspring will have good memories of childhood.  How we try to make moments into something special, something amazing.

For parents who are in a similar boat to mine, those of us struggling financially, it sometimes feels as though we cannot possibly do what it takes, or buy what it takes, to create those memories.  Those snippets of time that we want our kids to look back on and smile.

I realized, this morning, that it doesn't take a magician or a fat checking account or even much imagination to create these feelings, these moments.

Sometimes all it takes is a hand-me-down bowl. 





33 comments:

  1. Damn girl -- you made me tear up over the story of a pasta bowl! (If that doesn't prove you're a writer [who deserves a book contract STAT] I don't know what does.)

    I get it, though, I really do. I felt that flood of recognition, recalling all the seemingly silly little things my girls recall from their childhood, the catch phrases, modest moments, weird family-only in-jokes, decidedly non-glamorous adventures -- the vast majority of which had zero to do with any big trip or large expenditure of cash.

    To paraphrase Tolstoy (and yes, you've inspired a comment that paraphrases Tolstoy. Check that off your bucket list!) -- all big-ticket family adventures are somewhat alike, but all modest (yet truly unforgettable) family memories are different in their own way.

    (Now, you best be workin' on that book, woman!)

    --Salish

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    1. Very well said, Salish. :)

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    2. Salish that is one of my favorite quotes of all time (well, the original one, although I like yours a lot, too).

      Thank you so much for the kind words...I'm blown away by the praise. After I hit "publish" on this one, I had second thoughts...because it really is a post about a bowl, ha! But like you said...i think there's a lot in here that many of us get.

      Thank you so much for reading.

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  2. Awww....that's a great story! I think the 5 of you should go shopping for a new pasta bowl! You can make it interesting and go to thrifts or you can go to Ikea or somewhere and buy a new one...but that way, the new one too will be special and new memories can start to be made...kinda like a fresh start. :)

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    1. Oh Jeffie..that's funny. I actually thought about taking whoever wanted to go shopping and get a new one. But I think I'll wait a little while until the perfect one shows up. I have a few other "big" bowls that will do in the meantime, ha!

      Love you, lady!

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  3. Beautifully written!! Take a picture of the pieces nicely arranged in anticipation of THE book's dust cover/jacket.

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    1. Gail that is a fabulous idea! Of course I still have the broken bowl..I'll snap a few pics.

      Really, that's an awesome idea. Thank you, so much, for your unwavering support. You are a good friend. Can't wait to Pedal Pub with you!

      Delete
  4. Wow,that made me cry. That's why you're an amazing writer. You take take an everyday object use it to tell the story of your family. I can't wait to buy your book!

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    1. Oh Kris, thank you. Thank you so much! It means a lot to me to get comments like this...it still blows me away to know that things I write affect other people.

      I appreciate it, more than you know!

      Thanks for reading!

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  5. Grenee's idea is brilliant.
    And this is a brilliant post.
    Tears here, believe it or not!

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    1. Hey anonymous...THANK YOU. Sorry about the tears!

      I really appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment!

      Delete
  6. I'm a guy. And now I'm sad about a broken bowl and all it symbolizes. That's not supposed to happen to us dudes. Amazing writer is right. Wow.

    For the record, glue that thing back together with some epoxy and while it may never hold pasta again, it would probably look pretty good holding some fake flowers of some sort on an end table.

    Good grief, listen to me! You now have me talking about fake flowers! I think I better get on over to ESPN.com for while to reset my "male" button. LOL! Keep up with the writing!

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    1. A dude! Welcome! You know what? The fact that you read a post titled "A Broken Bowl" on a blog called "The Happy Hausfrau" tells me that you must be pretty secure in your manhood.

      I have thought about the glue, and being the sentimental freak that I am, have even debated going into my local hardware store with bowl in hand and seeing if any of the hardware guys could help a mother out.

      Thank you, thank you, a thousand times over for chiming in. I bet you're a pretty cool guy.

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  7. Don is a pro at gluing together broken glass items. Bring it over.

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    1. I was thinking about that platter of yours! How can you still wash it?? Don is brutally efficient.

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  8. Hey Jenny -

    Here's an idea - take the pieces and make a mosaic with them. For example, you could make a trivot that you could use to put hot dishes on your table - or maybe even your next pasta bowl. I bet Michael's has some crafty kit for doing something like that. That way the bowl lives on in a new incarnation.

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    1. Jen that's funny. One of the first things I thought of was mosaic! I think your idea is great..it would also be a cool picture frame, or frame for a big old mirror. Hmmm..

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  9. Such a great post. And that idea above about photographing the broken bowl for the cover of your book (the book that will be!), well, that's an amazingly wonderful suggestion!!!!
    And I also agree you all should shop together for a new bowl. Or, go to one of those paint your own pottery places and have each of you decorate it somehow (handprints or just stripes or dots or whatever).

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    1. Hey twister! I know! Isn't that the best idea ever, for a book cover??? I better get the old instagram ready.

      I thought about one of the paint your own places, and I still think maybe we should do that. I think the kids would be into it.

      Thank you for reading, hope all is well with you!

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  10. My immediate inclination was to go out and buy you a new bowl but that wouldn't mean as much as one coming to you in another special way. I love your writing and I love all these responses and ideas. I can't wait to read your book(s)!!!

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    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for even thinking such a kind thing. I am so happy you like reading this stuff! Your support means the world to me.

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  11. Our pastor is a mosaic man. He makes them and teaches classes. Make it into a mosaic!

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    1. Another vote for mosaic...he's close, too. Hmmm.

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  12. Definitely agree. Total book cover material! Fabulous idea and this is by far one of my favorite things you've ever written!!!

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    1. Thank you my dear. That means a lot to me!

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  13. Suzy in New ZealandJanuary 27, 2013 at 9:50 PM

    Loved your story & can certainly identify with the feelings. I moved countries & was only able to bring a few sentimental things with me; the remainder ended up a pile of ashes thanks to the ex. So whenever I miss something, I just pretend it all went up in a house fire and wasn't I lucky to have those few precious Christmas ornaments, family photos, wood carvings by my granddaddy, etc. But I love the comment about making the broken pieces into a mosaic...that way you can take it WITH YOU as your life improves and grows. But hey, you already have everything that money can't buy! xx

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    1. Suzy what a huge bummer. Sorry your ex is a total psycho :(

      You are 100% correct. The most important things in life can't be bought.

      Thank you for reading.

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  14. This is such a homerun!! Thank you.

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  15. The madwoman sent me here saying you this was a good read and that we all needed to check you out. She was right. Never thought I could get attached to a bowl that was never even mine. Maybe if you bring the kids to the store to help pick out the new bowl it might make them feel a little better...

    Anyway, thanks for this.

    Bryan

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    1. Thank you, Bryan! Love that madwoman. I'm so glad you enjoyed the bowl!

      We did get the EXACT same bowl...an anonymous Santa dropped off a big box on our front steps shortly before Christmas. You think I cried when we opened it??

      To this day I have no idea who did it, or how they found the exact bowl. But I'm glad they did.

      Jenny

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  16. love love love!!!

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  17. Really lovely. It reminds me of the story by Ann Beattie called "Janus." It's a completely different sort of story, but also a study in how a simple object can contain so much meaning.

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