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Wednesday, September 06, 2006The Dead Man's Bowls
My mother has these huge soup bowls. I swear you can bathe a baby in them. Okay that’s an exaggeration. She loves these bowls because they remind her of her childhood. Her grandmother used to own several sets of them just like them. As a matter of fact my mother claims that you couldn’t legally claim to be Latino unless you owned a set of these bowls. The bowls hold exactly one quart of soup this is no exaggeration I actually did the measurement before I sat down to write this.
When my mom was a kid her grandmother like so many other Latina women across the New York City would make thick stick to your ribs sancochos (stews), and asopaos (gumbo ) on cold winter days or whenever someone had a hangover or la gripe. Back in the days the bowls were considered kind of expensive Woolworths would sell them for $3.00 each. Now a days you can find them for .99 cents but they are not the same they are made lighter they have less weight. The old ones were really heavy, you could give someone a concussion with them or develop carpal tunnel syndrome from carrying them around.
A couple of years ago an elderly friend of my mothers went back home to Puerto Rico to visit family. While he was there he came across the huge soup bowls which are still popular in Puerto Rico. The bowls were made old school style thick and wrist straining heavy. He brought several for himself and a dozen for my mother. Sadly he never got to give them to my mother himself. Several hours after returning to his apartment in New York he became ill and passed away in the hospital several weeks later.
After his death months went by before his daughter was able to bring herself to clean out his apartment. She saw the bowls in a box that had my mothers name in big bold letters. The bowls were still packed in their tissue paper and egg crating. She had the bowls sent over to my house. As soon as my mom saw them her eyes teared up. She had known the old man since she was around 11 years old he was her great aunts cousin by marriage. When she first started learning how to cook he and his wife would always eat what she made and no matter how bad it tasted they’d rave on about it telling her it was the best they’d ever eaten.
My mom put the dishes up in the kitchen cabinet expecting them to be used. Unfortunately my uncle Tank developed a phobia of the dishes. He started calling them the dead man’s bowls and that spread to the rest of us. Every time my mom would make soup or gumbo for dinner she’d bring down the bowls and someone would inevitably make a comment about feeling creepy about using the dead man’s bowls. The bowls then would find their way back to the kitchen cabinet and our regular bowls would be used.
A couple of months ago my mom got rid of her old soup bowls telling us she intended to replace them with a couple of new sets. It was a lie she never intended to replace them at all! Her actual intent was to break our resistance to using the dead man’s bowls. Even though the calendar says it’s still summer the weather in New York says different, it’s been behaving as if it’s fall out here. Today for example turned into a chilly drizzly day and my mom decided to make sopa de salchichon a house favorite. My mom began setting the table for dinner. First she placed the tureen of soup on the table followed by the avocado salad, a huge Pyrex bowl of white rice and a tray of buttered toasted Italian bread with sesame seeds. My family was already seated when my mom came in with the dead man’s bowls.
Mom: Okay people listen up we have no soup bowls. I haven’t replaced the ones I threw out. This is it. These are the bowls we have so work with it.
the smirk on her face was priceless she thought she had won the soup bowl battle/
Uncle Tank: Big Mags from the group home ( his nickname for my mom his older sister) those are the dead mans bowls!
Mom: Abbie (her nickname for him) get over it. They didn’t belong to him they never did. He had brought them for me. He never used them. The suckers were still in their wrapping when they brought them to me.
Uncle Tank: Still , Big Mags he wrapped them!
Mom: And? You’ve got your cootie shots. You need to get over this fear of the bowls man.
Uncle Tank: I’m not afraid of them it just creeps me out. They are the dead man’s bowls.
Mom: Wha? Dead mans balls? Wtf you talking about? Stop mumbling.
by this time my siblings and cousin were hysterical with laughter.
Mom: It’s not like I want you to fondle a dead mans balls. All I want you to do is eat some soup from the freaking bowls the dead man got for me. Sheesh you got me calling him the dead man. Don Jesus.. his name was Don Jesus! She turned to my dad…William some help here hon please?
Dad: Babe those are the dead man’s bowls! We can’t eat soup out of those!
more laughter…it’s obvious there’s a mutiny going on. My uncle is now standing behind my father embracing him. My dad raised my uncle when my grandma died so my dad is actually more like his father than bro in law.
Uncle Tank: See big mags no one wants to eat from the bowls. The dead mans bowls. Even pop doesn’t wanna eat from them.
Dad: Babe…dead mans bowls!
Mom: Steven William, Caitlin Nicole, Matthew David, and Edwin Jr (my cousin) are you guys afraid to eat from the dead man’s… ayy! Don Jesus’ bowls?
Mom: Fine esta bien. You don’t have to eat out of them. The only thing is I only have 4 small soup bowls in the cabinet over the stove. I don’t see how all of you are going to eat dinner at the same time.
Uncle Tank: Don’t worry ma I got this.
My uncle served the kids their soup in the small bowls ma had stashed in the cabinet over the stove. He and my dad ate out of plastic Tupperware containers as my mom ate her soup from the dead man’s bowls. As for me I wasn’t having soup I was having a grilled chicken breast salad which my mom had served to me on a regular dinner plate. Later on as my siblings did the dishes and my folks relaxed in the living room …
Dad: Babe if you want I’ll pick up a couple of sets of those colorful soup bowls you like so much this weekend.
Mom: Vete al carajo William you were part of the dead man’s bowls mutiny.
William: His name was Don Jesus not the dead man. dissolving into a fit of giggles
Mom: (laughing as well) That’s it I’m telling your mother on you. No respect for a dead man or his bowls.
5 comment from: Charlotte, christina/ohio, The Krispy Dixie, Mia, Mia,