The bowls arrived yesterday. Lots of bowls. I’ve never counted – Fifty? Seventy-five?
Their sizes vary like watermelons, from big enough to hold spaghetti for 20 to small enough for a child’s Cheerios. Made in the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties, the once commonplace bowls range in colors that speak the language of the hills in late summer: every green imaginable and the dull yellows and browns of drying grasses. Then – here and there like wildflowers – a bold orange, yellow or blue.
Over the years, these bowls served up everything that came out of our kitchen, but food was only the beginning. They held rocks and driftwood and sand dollars from the beach at low tide. One was for mail still unopened; another for mail stamped and ready to go. The yellow one-minded keys to cars we barely remember. Side-by-side green ones held notes from me to my husband, and notes from him to me. This wasn’t the first life for our bowls. It was number two, or number three, or number four. I wish I had known the people who lived with them before us. These bowls have stories to tell.
Two people got me hooked on bowls. The first was my grandmother – the clever, hugging, say-it-straight-and-add-a-few-salty-words grandmother. When she died, I snapped up the colorful dishes she spread out on her yellow Formica table three times a day. The oval turquoise bowl for cucumbers and green onions, the ivory “nappy” for mashed potatoes with a glob of butter, the yellow gravy boat for whatever sauce she made up for supper that night.
The second was Carolyn, our Salmon Creek neighbor with bright blue eyes, dimples, and muddy work boots. Every Saturday night, we listened for the grinding gears of her old truck as it crept down Bean Avenue. Then, the two honks in front of our house before she backed into her dirt driveway next door. My husband and I would stop whatever we were doing, hurry out the back door, and hop over the low fence to see what treasures she’d found that day. It was a 20-year tradition.
Carolyn bought and sold collectibles, in the jargon of her trade. She got up early every Saturday morning to preview the latest warehouseful of used furniture and household goods on the block at Skips’s Auction House in the next County. Skip got the call when it came time to liquidate an estate. He’d divide the lifetime of acquisitions into manageable “lots” a dealer could haul away quickly when the auction ended.
Carolyn liked to put in a low bid on the smaller boxes of well-worn household items that barely escaped going to the dump before the auction house finished its job. Occasionally she’d spot a valuable find among the worthless pieces. Then she’d be as thrilled as a gold digger discovering a hefty nugget in his pan.
Carolyn had a sharp eye for the vintage bowls I love. Bauer, Brush McCoy, Fiesta, Red Wing, Weller, Hall, and many others. With luck, one of her “Magic Boxes” held an oversized yellow ware mixing bowl with the classic double red band –perfect for popcorn. Or maybe she’d found an 8-inch green Bauer Ringware bowl. That was the hardest size to find because over the years it was used most often and suffered the most life-ending falls to the kitchen floor.
With only a few exceptions, no two bowls look exactly alike. Even those made by the same company and marked as the same size look and feel different. The less alike the better, if you ask me. So much more interesting that way.
Bowls lived everywhere in our house, sometimes alone, sometimes in rows, sometimes in stacks. No one stayed put too long. Always a different windowsill to sit in.
Now the bowls have come to live in our new house. Last week we sold the house we built 30 years ago and bought a new one far away. We felt like visitors here.
The pile of brown packing paper filled the kitchen by the time we finished unpacking last night. We stayed up late retelling the stories the bowls brought with them. Even though the stories were happy, it made us sad to tell them.
When we got up the next morning, there they all were. Bowls covered every inch of counter space in the kitchen. They huddled together with no room to breathe.
We spent the morning moving our old friends around, to the living room, to the bedroom – no, let’s try the bathroom. Is that bookshelf OK? Does this windowsill feel right? That blue one’s perfect for the mailbox key. We need one here for peaches. The more we moved the bowls around, the more settled they became. The more settled we became.
That’s just how they are, these old bowls. They’ve lived this story before and they’ll live it again, when new people fill them up with the bits and pieces of their lives.