We were all rather proper in my home, even though we were poor – especially before my mother went back to work when I (the youngest of three) turned six. My dad was an actor and always made a living at it, but sometimes that living consisted of unemployment insurance.
The table had to be set correctly. It was set with Mom’s silver, given to her at the time of her marriage. The fork was on the left of the plate, the knife to the right with the cutting edge facing in, and the spoon was set to the right side of the knife. I loved that sterling, its heavy burnished glow, the way it came bright when rubbed with the pink polish, the way the deeply etched curlicues were outlined in black, a tarnish that never came out.
It was a complex and ornate pattern and it made me think of each piece as fully dressed. The fork was a handsome young soldier, with his uniform mounting right up to his chin; the knife was a proper old father, and his cutting edge, like a sword, was turned to face the fork because he was protecting the daughter, the spoon, a small and pretty girl in a flowery dress to his right. If there were soup, of course, the bold mother soupspoon in her apron and blouse was added furthest to the right, where she would be most handy.
In time, spoons were lost and knives broke, and the handsome young soldiers, I fear, took a wrong turn. Now my flatware is simple and not always matched. Though I did inherit four sets of my Aunt Spec’s plain silver plate from my sister, who as the eldest always had the responsibility of keeping in touch. Aunt Spec, my father’s sister, lived and died in small-town Georgia (when she wasn’t in the Macon hospital for nervous complaints), and late in life, she believed so whole-heartedly in my father’s soap opera character, she’d call and fuss at him when she didn’t like whatever he did in the story.
I don’t use the silver plate for eating, especially the worn spoons, which are tinny and thin. Spoons I prefer robust, heavy and wide. Spoons are so good for everything, I’ve come to prefer them to the fork as my primary gustatory implement. With a spoon, you can stir a pot, taste a soup, portion off a bit of turkeyburger and scoop up some mixed vegetables, all without touching a knife or a fork.
Not any spoon will do, though. It must be weighty enough to produce a firm, rounded edge to the bowl, and it must have a comfortable handle with an easy grip. And it must have the proper taste: the taste of water from a wellspring, untainted by mineral or slag. That is, a refreshing spoon with no taste at all.
Most importantly, the size of the spoon must fit the job. I have my wooden-handled teaspoon that is the perfect size for dolling out my Taster’s Choice instant coffee (don’t be horrified, my friends, I really like it). I must have two spoonfuls of the exact right amount, just a little boiling water, and the rest is hot milk. Then there’s the Aunt Spec silver plate teaspoon, which, when leveled, adds the perfect contribution of Splenda. And having put an end to my desultory and defeated attempts to spear tiny bits of food with a fork, I now employ a big, oval tablespoon (the earstwhile “soup spoon”) to eat my chopped salad. Those luscious last morsels of nut, cheese, Romaine and apple, all dappled with my favorite dressing … what fork could serve? No, I scrape the bowl clean with my heavy spoon, as clean as my dog’s spatulate tongue.
It must be my second childhood. I have fallen in love with the diminutive girl, the flowery dress, and the bold mother spoon. They serve me well as I step into the next day, only the occasional need for a sharp knife or a fork to pin something down. Here, I put on my apron, a gift from my late sister, all covered in hot chili peppers, and set down to work: the meat, the sauce, the pasta and the spoon, all coming to one delicious meal.