Silverware

How a set of spoons encompasses my entire childhood.

My mother has owned the same set of silverware my entire life. At our tiny old house there was a drawer beside the sink, or perhaps across from the sink, which held a plastic sorting tray. The compartments were loosely shaped like spoons or forks or knives. Whenever I opened the drawer, standing on my tiptoes, I remember its signature rattle as the silver clinked together.

My memories of this kitchen are fading now. I know it had nothing separating it from the living room besides a thin strip of gold metal nailed down to the floor where green carpet ran into cool tile. I know to the right was our wooden table with its L-shaped bench, next to that an old yellow fridge. To the left was the sink, the stove, the cowhide-print cabinets where my favorite heart-shaped Barbie plate was held. Then beyond the kitchen lied an addition my dad had installed, a washing room/computer room/room where my father de-feathered the dead ducks he brought home from hunting trips.

The silverware I remember clearly, though, because it still sits in our new house, even though my parents are divorced and my mother recently married my step mom. We still have the same plastic sorting tray. I know the drawer really is next to the sink, here. It rattles just the same. Only I don’t stand on my tiptoes anymore.

There are butter knives, little spoons, big spoons, little forks, big forks, and then a handful of “desert” utensils — tiny, tiny forks and spoons with elongated necks, like cold, silver swan heads.

Each neck is bordered with thin lines pressed into the silver. Then, at the end of the neck, the silver widens in a symmetrical bloom, each side meeting smoothly together at the top, with a design that reminds me of rose petals and French Victorian era manors.

I look at these spoons and forks and butter knives and think of the dark green bushes beside my old house. The purple bucket my old neighbor and I used to fill with mud and grass for no reason. The chain link fence which separated our backyards and over which I’d climb up and hop down in the rocks beside her dog’s kennel and the adjacent shed. I still remember the sound the fence made when I wrapped my hands around the top bar and gripped the chain links with my toes. It was a bright, sunny sound, filled with warm summer air and a big blue sky. I hear it now: “Chh — chh — chh,” followed by the sharp sound of the rocks as I jumped down, wearing my five-dollar flip flops.

This is what I see when I look at my mother’s silverware. I see a thick envelope of photos developed at Walgreens, back when my parents used to use fat cylinders of film. Moments frozen in time, the date stamped in the lower right hand corner with bright orange letters. My sister and I smiling in my dad’s old truck. Myself as a baby, crawling across the living room’s green carpet. My sister and I blowing bubbles in the backyard. My mother leaning over my sister’s Blue’s Clues birthday cake as my sister scowls beside her, a Chicago Cubs hat swung around backwards on her head.

I pick up a spoon to eat applesauce and feel the warm roughness of the walkway to our front door against the soles of my feet. I can feel the soft grass of my front yard against my bare arms and calves. The window screen in the bedroom I shared with my sister, my nose pressed up against it to look across our driveway at my best friend’s house, sometimes licking it with my tongue to see the squares of saliva, caught in the net of synthetic fibers, shine in the sunlight.

Somewhere in the back of the silverware drawer in our new house there is a Blue’s Clues baby spoon, the same blue as my sister’s birthday cake with tiny paw prints lined up in a vertical row. There’s a gravy ladle used every time my mom buys a tiny loaf of turkey in its tinfoil trough. White measuring cups I once used to make cookies, though I ended up with a cake, somehow, instead.

When I ponder the concept of memories, I think of a picture of myself when I was younger. I was standing in my old backyard, long flyaway hairs stuck to my cheekbones, head tilted up, lips puckered, as I blew bubbles. I wore big, obnoxious pink sunglasses, and held the bottle of bubbles in my right hand and the wand in my left. My neck had two soft shadows trailing down into the collar of my shirt, and in between locks of hair plastic clip-on earrings were attached to my earlobes. The cement slab that was our patio sat behind me, and the white stucco siding of our house stood behind my shoulder. A few rainbow bubbles floated above me, and this is how I view memories.

Translucent spheres of soap hanging from the clouds and sun by invisible string. Sometimes the breeze knocks them together and they converge into one, but that’s okay, because it just makes a prettier bubble. The smallest amount of pressure pops the skin, and before you know it, all that’s left is the tacky remains on your fingertips. Later, when you’re eating chips, you can taste it on your tongue, gross and prominent behind the salt.

I look down, and memories from my old self float up to me. I pick up a wand and blow some back to her. Eventually, I lose sight of them, so I’ll never know if they make it, or, if they do, whether or not she’ll be able to recognize them. I’d like to think she will.

Memories pop sometimes. They land on your dog’s nose, making him sneeze, or when you try to catch one on your hand it just doesn’t work out. Memories can’t last forever. Even the big ones, beautiful and colorful in the light, are lost. Good thing we all have a bottomless bottle of bubbles to replenish these losses. With practice, we can learn how to make memories that are the best. With a soft puff of air, a giant bubble arises, or a quick breath creates lots of little ones.

In my kitchen now I pick up one of my mother’s forks, but I know it is really a bubble wand in my mind. I’m sure if you look close enough you’ll find one for yourself somewhere, too.

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