Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Punch Bowl

Where to begin? In this amazing land of melting pots where every single person births forth with his very own blueprint of mixed ethnicities and traditions….I would LOVE to go back to my parents’ heritages in detail,  to lay the foundation of this little story but not this time. Instead a brief telling:

My mother’s father was senator of Iowa and though she had, for one brief shining moment, lived as an aristocrat, with the onset of the depression and all of her father’s interests in Iowan farmland, by the time she went off to Smith College, she had a handful of plunky dresses, thick glasses and a giant, magnificent, expressive brain and imagination.

My dad’s father was vice president of Exxon,  had never  been schooled past the 7th grade,  but had worked his way up to head of exports based on his fairness. He was ‘let go’ by the company in the 40’s because he refused to sell oil to Germany prior to World War II. My father had grown up with lawn tennis courts and excursions into New York City to the opera in chauffeurred limousines, but embodied his parents’ simple values and joix de vive.

My parents met on a blind date, Mom believing that Dad was surely going to be an eskimo, because of his name, and the date was not stellar. Having been raised with manners the two corresponded, both ended up going to Yale and kept their connection alive.

Fast forwarding to the wedding.

Dad’s Yale law degree, subsequent work, and Mom’s Dad’s position had put him smack in the center of political attention. He was being groomed to run on a ticket with Hubert Humphrey and there was much excitement. The vice president under Roosevelt, Henry Wallace, was a friend and guest at the wedding. It was an elegant affair and a beautiful coming together of two dynamically bright thinkers and doers. An exquisite, cut crystal punch bowl had been a gift from the Wallaces, and was the center of the party.

With World War II on the horizon, my parents’ lives took a phenomenal shift when Dad decided to go into Japanese language training as an interpreter. By the war’s end, after personally creating hope out of despair for many in the South Pacific,  his inner world was so vastly different that he could no longer proceed with his previous life plans. Dad entered a seminary and together with Mom they devoted their lives to humanitarian service in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal.

When we were not in India, our family headquarters was suburbia New York, and Mom and Dad’s Christmas party was a peek for us offspring at the life they had once lived. The wedding punch bowl frothed forth a mixture of sherbet, ginger ale, and pineapple juice and lit up the dining room and drew people together in a mystical way. Every year this was so, and every year the elegance and magic of bygone times visited us.

When my parents moved to the northern woods of Lake Michigan, in the mid 80’s I inherited the punch bowl. It was meticulously wrapped and shipped to me in South Carolina and as my life was in upheaval, it lived in storage for years and years.

Three years ago, a few months after Mom had passed, Dad came to visit me in Southern California for his birthday. Little did any of us know that three days later he would be admitted to a hospital and set sail for his last earthly chapter of this go ‘round. However! On his birthday I rallied my closest friends, and we gathered around the pinkly frothing punch bowl  and after toasting Dad, he launched into tale after tale of his life. When everyone had gone he sat down by the table, looked at the punch bowl, picked up a photograph off of my bookshelf of his wedding and he sat listening to a recording of Chopin’s waltzes.

Dad left the planet three months later and my life took a wild spin where once again the punch bowl needed to retreat into storage. Two days ago, as the holidays are coming, I wanted to retrieve my recipe box from storage and I found the punch bowl, shattered. Tears wanted to leap to my throat but they didn’t.  Beginnings and endings and beginnings, this felt right.

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