Big Macs and runcible spoons

Maybe I'm just annoyed with the idea of being represented to future generations by a well-preserved Big Mac box, but it seems somehow Unjust (with a capital Un) that things outlast memory. For one thing, I'm not sure I really want my great-grandchildren to know me only by a collection of plastic spoons and a trunkful of antique miniskirts and peace buttons. Just how much of who I am and what I've done will they be able to wring out of memorabilia piles like that, I wonder? And what effect can these things hope to have on the way that generation behaves?

I was pondering this the other day when looking at my own great-grandmother's dessert plates, given to her on her wedding day by, I am told, some unknown guest. The old dame had great taste in guests. Those plates are a beauty to behold and are in far more sterling condition than anything I received on my wedding day (a fact I attribute to my ancestor's undoubtedly dull life).

I don't, in fact, have either a mental or visceral picture of this venerated relative. What I do have is an admittedly homely photograph and a statement I remember clearly from my own grandmother that her mother was ''something.'' Something what? Couldn't Nana have been more specific?

From my grandmother, I have far more telling feelings of the warmth and comfort of an ample lap on a tiny woman, and memories of her bottomless cookie jar and her habit of overkill when it came to silverware.

In addition to the formal place settings staring at us (individual butter knives, yet) at each endless dinner (two hours, minimum), Nana heaped serving spoons, forks with flailing prongs, and runcible spoons, which look like a mutated fork with a hole in the middle used only for watermelon pickles, near as I remember, next to her place.

Originally, I thought this was because she hated to interrupt the meal - not that she didn't have time - to go get even a teaspoon; later, I concluded that she had an advanced case of math anxiety, and thought bedecking the table with a generous heap of silverware would preclude the thrice-daily shock of figuring out exactly how many of each type was needed - one runcible, umpteen teaspoons, and something for the potatoes.

Nana's runcibles, etc., whatever their number, had a strange effect on her miniskirted, peace-buttoned grandchild.

My grandmother passed away on Christmas Eve, and I got the news in the

middle of a typical party. We'd just finished what was meant to be eggnog (we'd run out of eggs) and were busily working on an old bottle of club soda I'd found where the extra pop was supposed to be, while I served cookies made by my four-year-old.

Real Classy.

Nana never objected to my style of living - her style was not to object to others - and had in fact consumed runny lasagna and a glass or two of something horrid (I think it was canned punch) at our house the Christmas before with what , for her, would have to be called gusto - well, she did ask for seconds. She'd never advised using silverware, or asked for a salad fork, though she once suggested that I should get my husband's dinner for him and join the Methodist Church.

After her passing - and my subsequent inheritance of her dessert plates, dining room table, and vast runcible spoon collection - our parties started to take on an elegance I would have to call Imported. We used salad forks. We even had salads. Things toned up.

You should see what happened to my sister.

She and I landed the job of rummaging through Nana's house, redistributing the wealth. There, we ran across a pair of silk stockings in a nifty old purse, squirreled away in a forgotten dresser, along with a note from Nana saying that the stockings had been worn by the women in her family at their weddings, dating back to Civil War days.

Within two months, my sister - who had held out for 30 years against the loudly articulated whims of several suitors, not to mention our mother - got married. She says the time was right. I say it was the stockings.

But really - do you think antique Big Mac boxes will have this effect on our grandchildren?

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