My grandmother turned 90 last month. She lived through the depression on a small farm in rural Missouri, married a soldier during World War Two and raised three children. So when she told me she was interested in recording her ‘life story’ I jumped at the chance to hear anything she wanted to tell me. I anticipated being enraptured by her tales of living in Alaska and Germany in the sixties, looked forward to hearing stories about my dad growing up, back when everyone called him Butch, and of course stories about the farm, before electricity and indoor plumbing. I didn’t expect to be sidetracked by a plastic punch bowl. We were looking through the teak buffet table that has sat in the living room as long as I can remember. My grandmother was telling me about the silver they had engraved and the Rosenthal plates she and my grandfather brought back from Germany. In the back corner, was something I couldn’t quite make out, so I asked. "Oh that," she said, "that’s a plastic punchbowl I bought for your cousin’s bridal shower." Not a remarkable piece to be sure, but it’s what she said next that has stayed with me for months. My grandmother told me that when she was a young military wife, in the forties, she thought she needed to have a crystal punchbowl. This wasn’t said with any sort of entitlement, if you knew my Granny you’d know she’s not one for thinking she ‘deserved’ this or that. No, she and my grandfather entertained at times, and he was an officer in the Army; it was something she thought they should have, like wine glasses or nice china.
A crystal punch bowl. When my grandmother was married, roughly 70 years before my own wedding, she thought a crystal punch bowl was a vital part of her kitchen. As it turns out, she never did get her crystal punch bowl, and in fact never needed a punch bowl of any sort until a few years ago when we hosted a bridal shower with a dozen guests; and then she went out to her local big box store and bought a plastic one.
The first thought that occurs to me is how different my life is than my grandmother’s. When I registered for wedding gifts 6 years ago, I didn’t even list any fancy china; I knew I wouldn’t use it. If someone had even mentioned a punch bowl to me I would have laughed. But then I got to thinking, maybe I have a punch bowl of my own.
Of the items I registered for years ago, aren’t there some that do little more than collect dust? Or even today, that purchase I was thinking of making, the current must-have; will it cause a fit of chuckles in a 20-something a few decades from now? Or will it become a cherished heirloom? Maybe it’s impossible to predict. I don’t know.
But I can’t stop thinking about punch bowls . . .