Friday, December 1, 2017

Bowl of Memories

Bowl of Memories
The story goes that the level of my grandmother's cooking was so good, that she used her oven to store her mail. It never got turned on. Ever. That fabulous chicken remembered from childhood visits to her home in Brooklyn was from the deli down the street, under the El* across from Uncle Izzy's candy shop.

My grandmother was a small, but strong  woman. You had to be to run a business, raise 4 children, keep a home, and support the love of your life in his endeavors, all during the depression, and while speaking a language not your native tongue. There's even a story our uncle told us, which our mother denied, and my eldest brother adopted as a gospel truth. The icebox in one of the apartments she rented out to tenants died, and a new one was delivered, but the person who delivered it refused to take it to the 4th story walkup. It was summertime in the city. The man was no fool. Faced with a problem, and no one available to help her, my bubbe* managed to heft the thing and carried it up. By herself. Did I mention she was 5 feet tall or less? In our childhood imaginations, it was our tiny 80 something bubbe hauling the Matag refrigerator/freezer that graced out kitchen, up an impossibly long flight of stairs. Our bubbe was tough.

 Our bubbe while not the best cook, did excel at a few dishes. She made a mean chopped liver, and good gefilte fish. (Each parent claimed their mother made the better gefilte fish, which resulted in my mother not making it, and opting to buy it from the deli.) When she made these dishes, she used a wooden bowl and a hackmesser, a chopper similar to a messaluna or ulu, though not crescent shaped. This variant was from Eastern Europe; messer means "knife" in German, and hack translates pretty obviously.

Chopping Bowl
The bowl where she did her chopping was simple and wooden. And she passed her bowl and hackmesser to her eldest daughter, when her daughter got married. That daughter was my mother. The bowl and chopper were ever-present in our home. I remember chopping spinach and hard cooked eggs in it as a teenager. When my mother moved to South Carolina to live with us, it moved too. Somewhere along the line, something noxious had spilled in it, staining a portion of the inside black, sinking deep into the wood, and leaving a residue that was questionable enough that nothing further was chopped in it. Resanding didn't help. The bowl stayed with us, and after my mother died, became mine. When we moved, it moved with me, because even though it was no longer used to chop, it help all those memories.

I've struggled what to do with it-- it's a hand carved bowl, with an uneven rim, and smooth sides. The inside holds the chopping scars of a multitude of meals, and has helped make the food that nourished four generations of family. I did not want to discard it, simply because it could no longer be used for what it was originally intended.

The bowl is full again, though not of food. Though I probably enjoy cooking far more than my mother or grandmother, the bowl now contains something else that is a part of me: my art. Depicted in the design are images of the cities my grandmother and mother lived. There are representations of important aspects of the lives of both, pictures of memories. Many may only be discernible to the artist, but the artist knows they are there. It is a bowl of memories. It is cherished, still. 

*elevated rail; elevated train
** bubbe (also spelled bubebubbie, bubbeh, bobbe, bobeh and bubby)

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