Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Punch Bowl is Mine

Everything I know about negotiation skills was learned sitting on the segmented, plastic-covered, white brocade couch in my grandmother’s living room.

Every Christmas, my family drove for two days or flew, on special occasions, to Fort Lauderdale to stay with my grandmother for two weeks.  When we were really lucky and could get our homework ahead of time, we stayed four weeks.  My grandmother was a widow with a three-bedroom house in a retirement community in Lauderdale Lakes, and we loved every second of our green Christmases.

We filled our days with jaunts to the flea market (Mom! Really really cool silver-metallic-leopard-print watch wristband! I MUST HAVE IT), trips to the beach in my totally 80s argyle-print swimsuit, shopping for v-backed sweaters in neon colors at The Limited at Broward Mall, and playing gin rummy with my card-shark grandmother.  These were the days that we watched The Sound of Music every year on the TV when it came on, because there was no such thing as a DVR.  These were the holidays that I fell in love with Band Aid and played “Feed the World” ad nauseum.  Not to mention the all-day cooking fests featuring Grandma and her sisters.


Why aren’t you eating these meatballs?  

Whaddayamean, you don’t eat veal anymore?

As my sister and I became teenagers and outgrew our annual perusal of the Sears catalog to pick out toys for Christmas, we needed a new outlet.  At some point, we made a game out of creating our grandmother’s will, dividing up all of the knick-knacks she kept in her living room.  It sounds morbid, but my grandmother had an amazing sense of humor, and she got a kick out of the whole thing.

I’ll take the white couch, I would say to my sister.

No, you can’t have the whole couch, she would protest. You take those two pieces and I’ll take this end piece.

I want the Lenox pedestal, I would say, writing it down in neat cursive on my piece of scrap paper.

Then I want the pink elephant statues, she would counter.

This went on and on, usually a few times throughout our stay each year.  We spent hours looking through the house for treasures and dividing them up and negotiating who would get what, and then we would present our lists to Gram.  It’s not as if she would ever really die, we thought.  We were just playing a game.

There was one item in the house that was non-negotiable: the massive crystal punch bowl.  For as many years as I visited my grandmother on those December days, that crystal punch bowl held court in the middle of her coffee table, untouched and unused.  It was always meticulously dusted and cleaned, each facet in the glass sparkling in the sun.  Each dainty cup was anchored to the inch-thick crystal by a small translucent hook.  The ladle sat grandly with its regal, ornately carved handle bursting from the punch bowl with defiance.  I am the queen of this living room, it said to me. 

The punch bowl was mine.  Always mine.  My sister didn’t even try to convince me, as she knew that I wasn’t going to budge.  It didn’t matter that this crystal punch bowl weighed as much as a baby hippo, or that I had no need of a formal punch bowl set now or in the foreseeable future.  It belonged to me as surely as my brown hair and eyes.

Years went by, and my grandmother started giving us little things from her collection, tiny things that would always remind us of her, and we remained in denial of her advancing age.

Late in December 1999, my grandmother pulled me aside to show me something she had made for me, tucked in her dresser drawer:  a baby blanket.  It was unfinished, but barely so.  It was a white blanket crocheted in a loose weave, soft and so fuzzy around the edges you’d think it was a dream.

“Gram, I’m not even married yet!”  I laughed.

“I just want you to know where it is, in case,” she said.  She gave me her wedding band that night.
A few weeks later, I got a call at 11:47 PM on a Sunday night from my keening mother: Gram had passed away in her sleep, quietly and peacefully.  I made arrangements to fly to Florida the next day to meet her at the house to start the process of boxing up her things.  I fell into my mother’s and cousin’s arms when I arrived at the airport, and arm in arm we walked out into the sunshine toward the end of this chapter of our lives.

As we worked through the house over the next few days, we shared funny memories of this nightgown, and this pair of earrings, and this lasagna pan.   We laughed about the tissue box full of gag gifts stuffed behind the bed (complete with a “three carrot” ring – as in, “Do you want to see my three carat ring?”, a huge plastic spider, fake poop, and fake vomit she liked to leave in various places around the house), the two freezers full of orange juice and meals “just in case”, and the statue wearing as many crucifixes as Mr. T had gold necklaces.  My Depression-era-survivor grandmother saved everything.  She tried to get me to take that box of gag gifts home with me more than once, and I turned it down every time.  I’d kind of like to have that back, now; my little boy would get a huge kick out of it.

When we came to the living room, I saved my crystal bowl for last.  I boxed up each item reverently, in cartoon papers and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinal news.  I labeled the box FRAGILE on every side, and readied it to ship to my new home in Atlanta.  I thought about the fragility of both this bowl and life itself, and I missed Gram like crazy.  A smile crept to my face through my tears thinking about all of the times I claimed this gift, and I started to laugh.  I laughed and laughed about that big, silly bowl, and I kept the memories and let the grief wash over me like a waterfall.

My bowl met me in Atlanta, and it made the move to Texas, still in that box with red pen markings all over it.  I took it out once, to look at it, and remember, but I don’t have to.  It’s as clear in my head as that well-loved glass ever was.  Someday, when I’m older and our son has outgrown baseballs in the house (this is why we don’t have nice things) and we have more room for knick-knacks, I’ll take it out and give it its special place.  Frankly, when am I going to need a big crystal bowl with 12 little cups and a massive ladle?  I may not.  But I have it, and all of the memories that go with it.

The punch bowl is mine, Gram.  Thanks for holding it for me all of those years until I could bring it home.



  1. Brought a tear to my eye, K. Thank you for sharing such beautiful memories.
    I use my punch bowl for all my son's birthday parties. Granted, it is nowhere near as fancy. But I make that punch with fruit punch and 7-up and sherbert. Just sayin, maybe you don't have to wait until he is older to use it; maybe it can be part of his childhood memories, too. <3

  2. Oh. This. It's beautiful, it's so simple and honest, funny and heartbreaking in the love it shows for your Gram, your family and your stories that I am wiping my eyes with the sweetness of your words.

    This piece is the true essence of you and in knowing you, hugging you and being your friend I know how sweet and wonderful that is.


  3. I love this story. :) Your Gram sounds like an amazing woman.

  4. I love this! You transported me back to a time of The Sound of Music every Christmas, and to "nice" things kept nice and on display. Lovely post.

  5. Love this story....I can hear all the Italian exclamations, and see you walking through her house. I love the picture, too.

  6. This made me smile and choked me up a bit! We've always made a game of writing our name on masking tape and then sticking it under the furniture we want at Nana's house. Some pieces have several pieces of tape, one on top of the other, where people are battling it out via tape! Always makes us laugh.

    I have a punch bowl story, too. One I've never been able to tell properly. You've inspired me to give it try... one of these days. My punch bowl belonged to my college roommate, who passed away in 2001. It was one of her wedding presents, from just 18 months earlier, and her mother wanted me to have it. I've never used it... But I'll treasure it forever.

  7. I love heirlooms. That punch bowl was made for parties! You should do something about that...

  8. This is so lovely - such special memories. And though you may never need it, I am sure that it is wonderful to have, all the same.

  9. What a truly beautiful story, Kristin. I'm glad you got the punch bowl. xo

  10. This story - I love it so much. Your Gram was a special lady. Fake vomit that she actually used? Hilarious! That she saved that punchbowl, knowing the memories it held for you, brings tears to my eyes.

  11. Your grandma sounds like she was a lot of fun. I think you could buy some new gag gifts and tell your son about his great-grandma's sense of humor.

    My sisters and I would always say, "I call that when mom dies!" if our mother brought home some new thing we liked. Luckily none of us found it morbid either and now we all know who gets the fancy tea cups some day.

  12. Beautiful! You were blessed to have such an amazing grandmother. Your post made me think of the yellow water pitcher I acquired from my grandmother. It is that one special thing I have held onto...even if it is cracked and can't hold water anymore. :)

  13. I know I already told you how much I loved this story, but I thought I'd leave a blog comment repeating myself. There's so much warmth around your words and around your persona.


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