Mom's kitchen bowls hold memories, too

I had no idea I was nostalgic about my mother's kitchen until I spied that first set of Pyrex mixing bowls on the bottom shelf of a dusty Boston antique store a decade ago.

Until then, I'd been content to do my stirring in the stainless-steel bowls from my mixer, and, in the '70s, plastic orange and yellow bowls left over from my husband's former life. But the minute I saw those familiar primary colors ("my mother's bowls!"), there was no doubt they were coming home with me.

I got all four - blue, red, green, and yellow - for $35, and felt as though I'd just snagged an amazing deal on a valuable piece of McGinty culinary history. How, I wondered, could I have been making cookie dough all these years without the yellow bowl? Potato salad without the green one? How could I have been mixing tuna salad in a plain glass dish when that little blue bowl was the perfect size?

When I called my mother to wax enthusiastic over my find, she laughed to think that mixing bowls could inspire such an emotional reaction. But she admitted that "they were really good bowls." When I learned that hers hadn't survived, I became a woman on a mission. I ran across several sets in my travels, and was happy to restore hers in time for Mother's Day.

But when I tried several years later to locate one for my equally kitchen-nostalgic sister, Carol, the search was more challenging.

I scoured secondhand stores and yard sales. Complete sets had become scarce, leading me to believe that I wasn't the only passenger on the Pyrex memory train. But my persistence paid off, and it felt good to know I'd helped two generations in three different kitchens get their bowls in order.

Fast forward to last Christmas. In my growing obsession with any variety of cookware nostalgia, I was determined to fulfill my mother's longtime desire to track down the heavy brown McCoyware mugs she'd used and loved for decades. My dad had liked them because the handle had a big opening. Mom's more-practical-than-emotional reason was the fact that they didn't show stains.

Before beginning my holiday assault on the antique district in Glendale, Ariz., I asked my sister, Susan, about gift ideas for Carol. Her response was all the answer I needed.

"I broke her blue bowl."

After countless hours in 15 stores, my eagle-eye scanning of hundreds of shelves and crannies had netted not only four authentic big-handled brown mugs and two blue bowls ... but an unexpected pièce de résistance: the gray gravy boat!

With an elongated shape and handle that reminded me of Aladdin's lamp, the familiar pale-gray piece of china gleamed from its spot between a stack of rusty cast-iron skillets and a 1940s radio. Although it was labeled a creamer, our family used it to hold the gravy on the Sunday dinner table for as long as I can remember.

As much as I coveted it, I'm not a frequent gravymaker, and I knew it'd have a busier, happier life in Carol's kitchen. So, although she and Mom didn't get shiny new things for Christmas, my reputation as a giver of perfect gifts remained solidly intact.

The nostalgia craze permeates our lives, and the companies that understand the "boomer" mentality are happy to produce pricey, perfect reproductions of the simple things we never realized had made an impression on us. Personally, I prefer the effort it takes to find the originals. My bowls might have lost a little of their original luster, but the fading and scratches only mean they have a history. Sometime, somewhere, another mother filled those bowls and fed a family, just as mine had.

I've always believed that "comfort food" makes people feel better, but I never realized the powerful reassurance we could get from comfort dishes. I love seeing those brown mugs back on the second shelf of Mom's oak cabinet. I love the fact that Carol is the second generation of McGinty gravymakers to have a gray gravy boat.

And every time I make my mother's recipes using my mother's bowls, I love knowing I have a spare little blue one, in case an accident threatens our carefully constructed kitchen memories.

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