Thursday, February 05, 2009

Serving Rice in a Flowered Bowl

We always had dinner together. Momma at the head of the table. Dad at one long side of the table by himself, stretching his legs out. Sister at the other long side of the table, on the left. Me next to my sister, on the right side of the table.

This was a daily occurrence. It was rare to not find all four of us sitting together at dinnertime, chatting while the girls jumped up to fetch this and that. Dinner preparation was a group activity for three- Momma and daughters, brushing by each other, taking the excuse to touch and hug and swat affectionately. Stove, sink, fridge, and rice cooker: the four points of interest in this Korean kitchen.

Every single day from as early as I can remember, we served rice in the same bowl. We had the requisite Corelle set, but it was different than other Korean households because my mother has taste. They didn’t have the ugly beige floral design so loved by many of the other Korean mothers I knew. Our plates were pristinely white, not a mark on them save the logo on the bottom of each plate, dish, or bowl.

The rice serving bowl, completely clashing with the stark modernity of the Corelle dishes, was a heavy ceramic piece, cream-colored. It had scalloped edges trimmed with a navy blue stripe. There was a cluster of bright flowers, perhaps three or four, that stared up from the bottom of the bowl. The flowers were pretty shabby-chic colors, like pumpkin and rust. They were cheerful without being hyper, sweet without being cloying.

In junior high school, we had our normal ritual. Dad sitting at the table while the women in his clan set the table, ladled soup into bowls, and rummaged through the refrigerator for an endless variety of side dishes.

I went to the rice cooker with the trusty serving bowl, knowing that I would be covering up the flowers with steaming rice. Flowers that would be revealed as our meal progressed.

I broke the bowl.

I don’t even remember how I broke the bowl. Maybe I slipped. Maybe I perched it too precariously on the edge of the counter. Maybe I jostled it. I don't remember how I broke the bowl, but I do remember how I felt in the split second it took to realize what had happened.

Bursting into tears, I ran into the bathroom and cried and cried and cried. In junior high school, more than my grades or even my friends, I thought constantly of my family. I couldn’t believe I had broken something that I saw as a symbol of our atypical nuclear family’s daily tradition. I had wanted to serve my family rice in that bowl.

It’s funny what one thinks of with just a glimpse of something. For me, I thought of my family’s rice serving bowl when I caught a flash of a persimmon-colored flower on a mug.