A family tradition, as sweet as sugar

You might be surprised by what you find inside their sugar bowl.

My aunt had been to the Rose Bowl, but she was queen of the sugar bowl. Not just any old bowl, mind you, and not actually a football game, but a filigreed, four-legged silver sugar bowl that graced the buffet in her Los Angeles dining room. Part of an old-fashioned silver tea service, the bowl seemed magical to us children.

You see, the bowl was not just a source of sugar cubes (which to children is often the most exciting way to eat sugar); it was a daily-replenished, mannalike source of innumerable sweets.

At first, it mystified my younger brother and me as to how and why we'd find packs of chewing gum, Life Savers, or NECCO Wafers among the sugar cubes. But we enjoyed the thrill of checking for what was new each day.

Eventually we realized that the source was our great-aunt, "Aunts" (so named by the prior generation, who'd had trouble pronouncing "Aunt Amelia"). She had a sweet tooth and loved to share her finds with others.

When we arrived at her house and every morning of our visits, we'd rush to the dining room to see if the sugar bowl had a new treat. I don't remember ever being disappointed, and I don't think Aunts ever tired of surprising us, even when we turned into self-conscious teenagers and tried not to look so conspicuously eager to open the bowl.

That's why it was such a treat to see the sugar bowl again, neatly polished and placed amid the rest of Aunts's silver tea set – now an heirloom – on my brother's buffet in Nebraska last summer.

I couldn't help but lift the lid to peep inside and check for treats. (Old habits die hard.)

Alas, there were none, but I realized that the empty bowl is an opportunity. On my next visit, I'm bringing a stash of treats – and sugar cubes – to try to kick off the second half of the sugar-bowl tradition.

But don't tell my brother. I want to see how long it takes him to lift the lid.

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