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Jennifer Ball Headshot

The Broken Bowl

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Jennifer Ball
Jennifer Ball

As far as bowls go, this one was nothing special.

It wasn't particularly beautiful, artistic or unique in any sort of way.

When my husband and I moved into our first house, my mother-in-law came over one day with a large cardboard box. "Dad and I are moving into a condo" she announced, "and I thought you could use some of these things for your kitchen!"

We unpacked the box together, and as each item was pulled from its corrugated confines, my mother-in-law told me where it was from, and sometimes, a funny little story that involved said item.

There were clear glass bowls, and salad plates and kitchen towels. A pitcher, a platter and then, she pulled out the bowl.

As I said before, this bowl isn't breathtaking. In fact, looking at it now, I'd say it's rather dated. It belongs in a kitchen heavily accented with hunter green and cranberry red. With some gingham-checked seat cushions and valences.

It's a pasta bowl. A very large pasta bowl. At the time, it was just my husband and me, and I remember thinking to myself, "Yikes...what would I use that for?". Our meals back then were small, simple meals for two. Never a huge meal that would require a vessel such as the one before me.

After she left, I got busy washing and putting away my new things. The bowls were used immediately, for they were the perfect size to hold my nightly pregnant-lady portion of ice cream. The salad plates were ideal for our sandwiches and individual slices of whatever was chosen from the freezer for that evening's sup.

Then the four children arrived. One after another. As they grew bigger, so did our meals. As any mother knows, pasta is a childhood staple, and as my brood burgeoned, I found myself reaching for that giant pasta bowl with increased frequency. At least twice a week I placed it in the middle of the dinner table, the steaming mound of spaghetti or linguini or penne glistening with butter and slowly melting parmesan cheese.

Too large for the dishwasher, this bowl was diligently washed after these meals, dried and put away in its spot in the cupboard above the double oven. If I had to hazard a guess as to how many meals it served us during our marriage, I'd say well into the hundreds.

And then our family broke.

My husband left. He took nothing with him, only his golf clubs, his suits and his car. His new life awaited him, you see, and I think taking reminders of the old one scared him. Intimidated either him or his new love.

So I was left with the children, the house, and everything else. Including the big bowl.

Our lives took many turns over the next few years. When my ex-husband stopped paying child support, the turns became plunges into dark abysses, and we lost that house with the double ovens, the arched doorways and the granite countertops.

Our new home, the rental I was able to get thanks to an angel disguised as a landlord, has a big kitchen. It's not fancy, but it'll do.

I've now become a master pasta maker; it's amazing how crafty one becomes when faced with near-poverty. A few eggs and some flour become dinner, and a delicious one at that. Many nights we have sat at the table, our big pasta bowl filled with thick, hand-cut noodles.

We just had that dinner last night. The pasta bowl sat in the sink, waiting patiently to be washed and put away in its new spot.

In a hurry this morning, I saw the bowl and despite knowing better, I tried cramming it into the dishwasher. I stuck it in there, on its side, and almost immediately it fell over, hitting a plate.

I knew what had happened before I looked.

Our bowl was broken.

Our beautiful pasta bowl was broken, lying there in the dishwasher like a ceramic Humpty Dumpty. I was surprised at the emotion that flooded over me as I picked out the tiny shards and the bigger pieces. And as I stood there in the kitchen, the dark autumn sky slowly lightening up outside, I tried to put it together again.

My son Henry walked in at that moment. "Oh no!" he said in his sleepy adolescent voice, "our bowl!" He tried, along with his mom, to put the pieces back in place. "Can't you glue it?" he asked me, with a look in his eyes that made me ache.

"I don't think so, Henry"

He pondered the broken bowl, and said, "But we've had this bowl forever. What are we going to use for spaghetti now?"

I shrugged. "I don't know" I said. "We'll have to find another one."

As each of the kids made their way into the kitchen after taking showers and getting dressed, their eyes settled on our broken bowl, sitting on the counter. Their reactions were all eerily similar: a gasp, a statement -- "Our bowl!" -- and then they'd touch it, trying to put the pieces together.

I didn't have the heart to throw the pieces in the garbage before I left for work. I left it there, on the counter. And as I drove along the highway, I thought about our bowl.

I thought about how we, as parents, break our backs and sometimes our checkbooks trying to ensure that our offspring will have good memories. How we try to make moments into something special, something amazing.

For parents who are in a similar boat to mine, those of us struggling financially, it sometimes feels as though we cannot possibly do or buy what it takes to create those memories. Those snippets of time we want our kids to look back on and smile.

I realized, this morning, that it doesn't take magic or money or even much imagination to create these feelings, these moments.

Sometimes all it takes is a hand-me-down bowl.

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