Once upon a time, my husband’s grandmother was a young woman who was engaged to be married. (It’s hard to think of her as that young woman in her early twenties. She was old as long as I knew her.) Her fiance’s aunt and uncle took her shopping for a wedding present, determined to buy flatware for the young couple.
Grandma had a definite picture in her mind of what she wanted on her table. Having grown up on a farm in Oklahoma, she was used to making-do and going without, but when she dreamed of being a grown-up, she imagined shiny silver utensils gracing her dinner table. Her fiance’s aunt thought that pretty had no place on a farmer’s table, that utilitarian and sturdy were the only way to go.
When grandma pointed hopefully at stainless steel with flowers on the handle, his aunt shook her head and pointed out a plain set with wooden handles. His poor grandmother fought back tears and said, ”But I don’t really care for that set.” Nothing was purchased that day, but at the wedding a few weeks later the whole family exclaimed over the generosity of the aunt and uncle who gave an entire set of flatware and at their sensibility in buying the sturdy kind with the wooden handles.
Eventually the tine broke off of one of the forks, and Grandma smiled to herself that the “sturdy” set had broken. It wasn’t long before she discovered that the broken part of it made it into the ideal hook for fishing things out of pots and for flipping bacon. It became her trusty utensil and was used more than anything else in her kitchen.
For 10 years, she lived with the set that she hated. She squirreled pennies away in the hope of replacing her ugly flatware. When she had enough money saved, this frugal child of the depression drove the utensils to the dump, pausing for a momentary pause before gleefully flinging it into the pit….all of it except the broken fork.
By the time I met her, she was already slowing up with age, but she still had all of the fire of her early days. Sunday mornings at her house were always church followed by a big breakfast which she insisted on making. In her hand, as she regaled us with family stories, was an old wooden handled fork with a broken time.
His grandmother is gone now, slowly slipping away from us years ago. It was hard to look at her frail quiet frame and see any trace of the woman she had always been. But when I go home, I look on my window sill, see that old worn out fork, and remember the defiance of a woman very near my own age who once flung the detested set into the trash heap and then laughed all the way home. I remember, too, the aged and caring hands of a kind and generous woman who made breakfast for her grandson and his new bride, passing on the history of their family with pride and a touch of humor.
I remember the first time she put that fork into my hand and asked me to finish the bacon because she had to sit down. It felt as if she was passing the torch from one generation to the next, and I became her heir in the care and keeping of the history of our family for all of the Frechs who will come after us.
I am not a sentimental person, attached to material things, but I’m kind of in love with my old broken fork.
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