What do spoons mean to you? Nothing, perhaps. Maybe beyond their primary functions of stirring tea, shovelling yoghurt into your mouth or, if you’re so inclined, cooking up your drugs on, they hold no value or emotion for you. I think – no, I know – that is the correct, default option. But for me they seem to be more than that.
I was at my mother’s in Yorkshire recently and she was showing me her new cutlery. It was nice, modern, but it meant she needed to clear out the numerous sets she already had. We err toward hoarding as a family, but occasionally we find moments of strength. First to go were the lime-green-handled horrors nobody ever loved, and then it was the turn of the set she’d had when I was a child – a very seventies stainless steel set with roses engraved in the handle – a wedding present, she tole me, even though I already knew the story. For reasons I can’t explain, I asked if I could have one of the teaspoons to take back to London with me, and she said yes, immediately washing one and setting it aside for me to take, completely understanding – even though I didn’t myself. Sentimentality works best when it goes unremarked upon. This… moment was then followed by my inquiring where my childhood Donald Duck spoon had gone, with varying – unreliable – accounts of what might have happened to it. A mystery, as it turns out, but it reminded me that my mental hierarchy of preferred spoons, and also my intense feelings for favourite ones, began when I was very small.
When I used to go stay with my paternal grandmother she would serve me my morning cereal or Ready Brek – always a favourite – or whatever and ask me which spoon I wanted to use. While it’s quite common for parents and other relatives to now spend infinite millennia negotiating with children about what they do and don’t want to do, like they’re difficult popstars, back then relaying options to children was absolutely unheard of. My mother used to say “You’ll get what you’re given” so often, I thought it was her pet name for me until my early teens. But no, at Grandma’s, with our mutually beneficial privilege of being an extra generation apart and thus not confined to the rules of parenthood, I had a choice.
Grandma’s cutlery drawer was like something out of an antiques shop – one of those huge, old wooden trays that contains all kind of artefacts, spanning decades and trends like a very niche jumble sale. I remember its handle, the drag of it as I pulled and the scraping of it against the unit. There were silver-handled sets, those ones with the ivory handles (were they made from bones, I used to wonder, they looked like they were) and various attempts to drag the cutlery collection into modern times with ugly ‘80s plastic-handled sets, some of them with their ends chewed by other, less discerning grandchildren. But the prize – the god-tier spoon you might say if you stole and edited memes for a living – was the one spoon that stood alone. It was, from the shape of it, a soup spoon, but thanks to being very small and having no idea of the social norms that would do their best to trip me up over the years, I was unaware of this at the time. Its handle was wooden – dark but with the natural grain of the wood showing through – and started wide at the spoon end before tapering down into the subtlest of points. It felt satisfying in my hand, substantial, and was perfect for mixing up my porridge or sludgy Weetabix (with hot milk, God you eat some shit when you’re a child). It also had an extra cachet in that I was not its only admirer.
Everyone wanted to use that spoon, and me and my (favourite) cousin would bicker over who got to use it if we stayed over at the same time. These conversations would start good-naturedly, often right before we went to bed, both of us insisting the other should have it, like pensioners trying to decide whose turn it is to pay for the tea and scones, but secretly – I need to check with her but I’m 99% sure she felt the same – each of us determined, no matter what we promised now, that we’d be the one smugly swirling it round our breakfast bowl in the morning. Next day, our politesse of the previous night would be forgotten and it was every grandchild for themselves. Shamefully, as I used to stay over less often than she did, and I was older, I’d say it was handed over to me more often than it was to her. Whoever lost would immediately protest it was absolutely fine, that they didn’t mind or care, but the lie would be burned upon their face like a bitter scar, the loser’s mouth tight and furious, throat unable to unclench. Breakfast uneaten, ruined.
After our grandfather died and Grandma moved into a smaller place, the spoon followed, and I remember being shocked in my twenties to open her cutlery drawer and see it still there – its varnish faded and metal scratched, but still, even then, feeling absolutely perfect in my hands.
When Grandma went into a home, my cousin and I met up to go visit her together, and couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the spoon. How could we possibly have lost track of it?! We had been disloyal to the memory of the spoon. Who’d cleared out all grandma’s stuff? Didn’t they realise the significance of the hallowed spoon? We surprised ourselves with the strength of the memory, but it was too late to ask Grandma, as her faculties had long since began their departure and she was struggling to come up with our names, let alone the whereabouts of a spoon. Sorry, the spoon.
Every now and again, when we see each other, we bring up the spoon and I know that for the briefest of seconds, we are united in our desolation that the spoon will never be found again.
Unless… hang on. Yes, I’m definitely going to riffle through her cutlery drawer next time I’m round her house. Just in case, just to check.
That spoon is mine. But, of course, I will be willing to share. Eventually.
The main image is from The Matrix and features Keanu Reeves looking at a spoon that is’t actually there (apparently – I haven’t actually seen the film).