For our holiday story series, we have invited some of our contributors to share a story, an episode, an experience that took place during the holiday season. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.
by Ann Hood
My family does not have heirlooms. When my Midwestern father’s family gave my Italian-American mother silver serving pieces for a wedding gift, she threw them away once they tarnished, unaware that they could be polished back to their original glean. “Junk,” she would say. “The Hoods gave me junk for my wedding.” Instead of a diamond engagement ring, my father gave her a set of luggage. Though sturdy, it long ago split at the seams and was replaced by the most up to date American Tourister. My grandmother’s tea cups didn’t match; her jewelry was rhinestone. The Glenwood stove she cooked on was left on the sidewalk one trash day and replaced by an Amana range from Sears. Our furniture was Ethan Allan. Our home decorations came from the Christmas Tree Shop.
But me, I hang on to the few things that I can salvage: an enamel kitchen table that I rescued on trash day, my grandmother’s old pizelle cookie iron, the trunk my great-grandmother brought with her when she immigrated from Italy then neglected for decades in the basement where it grew moldy. And my parents’ punch bowl.
The punch bowl is heavy and glass, though surely not crystal. It certainly wasn’t expensive—my mother didn’t use expensive things. The china she bought has never been used. Not once. It has sat in the same cupboard since 1951, untouched. In fact, it’s entirely possible she gave it away to The Big Sisters or some other organization. But back to the punch bowl. It sits on a faux silver base, has two dozen small cups and an intricate system of hooks from which to hang those cups. There is a ladle too, half faux silver, half plastic.
“Why would you want this old thing?” my mother said, blowing dust off its box. “I can just go to Target and get you a new one.”
“I love this punch bowl,” I told her. “Do you remember where you got it? Or when?”
She shrugged dismissively. “Probably on sale somewhere,” she said.
I brought the punch bowl set home and placed it on the enamel table where my mother and her siblings ate in the 1930s and 40s, where my kids eat now. When I took the bowl and cups and ladle from the box, I carefully wiped them with a dish rag, then set them up, as if I was about to throw a party. But no mater how hard I wiped, I could never erase the fingerprints all over that glass.
Every Christmas Eve, my father made the same punch: Big cans of Hawaiian punch, big bottles of rum, frozen strawberries, and a float of rainbow sherbet. People got drunk on that punch, and often the bowl was refilled many times over the night and again on Christmas Day. It was sweet and sticky, and it made people cry and tell everyone how much they loved each other. People made up over that punch. They fell in love. They kissed and fell off chairs and ate shrimp cocktail and snail salad and bacala and fried smelts, all with a glass of punch in one hand.
“Maybe I will have a little taste,” my brother’s mother in law used to say, letting my father refill her glass again and again. She died in 1982, a week before my brother died at the age of thirty by slipping in a bath tub, hitting his head and drowning.
In 1997, my father died, and I suspect that’s when the punch bowl went to the basement.
My aunts, Rosie and Angie, snuck glasses of punch all through the night, smoking Winston’s and eating the seven fishes my grandmother made every Christmas Eve. They both died of lung cancer, in 2003 and 2004. Mama Rose, my grandmother, died in 1976. She pretended not to like the punch, but after she went to bed we always found an empty glass by her chair.
That day I brought that punch bowl home, I saw their fingerprints all over it. I still do. I set the bowl and its matching cups up once or twice a year, filling it with milk, punch, or egg nog instead of the sweet concoction my father used to make. From my dining room, filled with the items my husband and I have collected on our travels around the world, the things I want to pass on to my children, I watch my guests lift the small cups to their lips. And if I look hard enough, I see the fading trail of my aunts’ cigarettes, my father emptying another bag of strawberries into the bowl, my brother’s flushed cheeks as he fills his glass again. I can see his mother in law, tipsy and joyful and alive, lifting her glass for the umpeenth time. “Maybe I will have a little taste,” she says.
I refill my glass and raise it to them. If I could, I would hold them all in my arms again. But all I can do is salvage what they’ve left behind, what remains.
Ann Hood is the author of 8 novels, including the bestsellers The Knitting Circle and Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine; two memoirs and a collection of short stories. Her most recent memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, was a NY Times Editor’s Choice and one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2009 by Entertainment Weekly. Her new novel, The Red Thread, was just published on May 1st.
To read Ann’s other posts on Drinking Diaries, click here.