The Stuffing Bowl

On days when I work all day, my mom usually makes dinner for us. I used to feel guilty about it, but then I realized two things. First, it gives her an opportunity to help me in a meaningful way - a need no mother ever outgrows. Plus, it means she herself gets a good meal where she might otherwise settle for cereal and toast.

Many times she makes a casserole, or something that can be reheated in one dish, and sends it home with me. Often, it’s in this dish, the one I fondly call The Stuffing Bowl.

The Stuffing Bowl has been in our family for 98 years. It was wedding present given to my maternal grandmother by her younger sister. My Aunt Lil would have been about 16 when my grandmother got married, and according to legend, she went into town to the local mercantile and purchased the bowl with money saved from selling eggs.

So the bowl went with my grandparents to their first home in Millwood, Kentucky in 1924. It came with them when they packed up their household and moved to Detroit in 1940. It came to Redford when they moved in with my parents in 1962. And of course it stayed in my mother’s kitchen after my grandmother died in 1992.

My grandmother’s famous cornbread stuffing was always served in this bowl on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hence, The Stuffing Bowl. Which for the past 10 years has been carted back and forth between my house and my mother’s on the average of twice a week.

I always handle The Stuffing Bowl ever SO carefully. I am a notorious bull in a china shop, and I cannot imagine my devastation were I to break it. Every time I look at it, I imagine my Aunt riding into town on her horse (which is really how they got around and about in central Kentucky in the early 1920’s) and getting that bowl at her cousin Buck Crawford’s dark little general store. I imagine my grandmother as a young bride, placing it carefully in her first kitchen’s cupboard. I picture her in my memory spooning great dollops of fragrant, seasoned turkey dressing into it and placing it in the center of our dining room table.

I’ve been meaning to write about The Stuffing Bowl for a long time. But I was finally inspired to do it after reading a book called Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay. Author Christopher Benefy writes quite a bit about the beauty of everyday objects. He refers to the way a piece of pottery “stands in two worlds at one and the same time.” Pottery, “unlike a painting or statue is not intended to be insulated and untouchable but is meant to fulfill a purpose - even if only symbolically. For it is held in the hand and drawn into the movement of every day life."

There’s nothing particularly artistic about The Stuffing Bowl. It’s simply a piece of Hall’s Superior Quality Kitchenware, circa 1920. But to me it’s more precious than the pieces of Waterford crystal I received as gifts for my own wedding.

Because they’ve been on the shelf behind closed doors, beautiful to look at, but never “drawn into the movement of everyday life" like The Stuffing Bowl.

They’ve not been touched by three generations of hands, they’ve not held food lovingly prepared to nourish a precious family.

They’re not The Stuffing Bowl, and they never will be.

How about you? Is there a special piece of pottery or kitchen ware that’s imbued with special meaning for you and your family?