PROBABLY EVERY HOME has a specific area that centers the family. At our house, it was the brown bowl. We never really figured out what it was made of. It was at least a foot wide, dull brown, relatively thin-walled, not too deep, and had an outside pattern that looked like possibly leaves or flowers. My guess was the material was pressed wood. It wasn’t plastic. My mother said it was a wedding present and I got the impression it was a salad bowl which she never used. There was a fork and spoon that may have been part of the circa 1944 gift. Whatever it was physically it was the hub of our family and was used constantly by all of us.
It was conveniently located atop the large oak sideboard that stood against the wall next to the front door. Basically, it served as a receptacle for all possible and impossible and unrelated items. It held all the small things that did not have another place or were waiting for relocation like keys, odd nuts, bolts, screws and pet items. Diaper pins were there when we were young. The contents changed as we grew. We all played with marbles and each of us four children had particularly prized ones that no one was supposed to touch. As my mother vacuumed and found an item or stepped on something valuable it was picked up and deposited in the brown bowl. If it was a pointy lost jack we really heard about it. Sometimes we lost the red rubber ball that went with the jack set. It became a treasure trove of lost and found.
“Hey Mom, I lost my yellow marble and I think Jan took it!”
Answer: “Go look in the brown bowl.”
Puzzle pieces, doll shoes, clean horse hoof picks, a dog whistle, and pocket knives had their turn. My grandmother was a Sunday school teacher and she would periodically give us these tiny Bibles we were supposed to carry with us. We agreed that the brown bowl would make them easy to locate and they would stay dryer than in a blue jeans pocket.
The two Siamese cats, Beauregard and Mame (from Patrick Dennis’ “Auntie Mame”) liked to sit on the oak sideboard and greet you as you came in. Their tube of vitamins and any current medications were kept handy in the brown bowl. There they were so you could uncap the tube and squeeze out an inch of brown toothpaste-looking vitamins for them to take turns licking for their share. I don’t know what was in it but they loved it and the ritual attention. They were very intelligent so they quite possibly got more than one dose per day.
Sometimes my parents would find things they deemed inappropriate like porcupine quills, small special rocks, and feathers. They asked us to remove them. For me, it went into my own wooden treasure box with the hinged cover. It was an old cigar box from a neighbor and I wish I still had it. It was always left alone because I think people were afraid to open it.
A pen and at least two pencil stubs were always available in the brown bowl.
Eventually, a few of us took up smoking and there was a spare flip-top box of cigarettes, matches, or a lighter. For small repairs, there were several different screwdrivers that could be used to stir and search the contents of the bowl. A small metal tape measure could measure the width of a window shade or the length of a cat’s tail. Missing Scrabble tiles, playing cards and gum packs had a turn. Depending on the season there might be insect repellent or Chapsticks in there.
I don’t know if our mother was trying to make us more tolerable or what, but there was a period of perfume samples for us to try. We got to recognize Channel #5, Shalimar, White Shoulders, Tabu (I hated this one), and other classics.
We had to keep some items out of the bowl like string, ribbon, and twisty wires because Mame had an obsession to eat these types of things and get sick, and we feared possibly worse. Don’t ask what happened to Christmas tree tinsel. When we divided up the house contents after my parents were gone one of my sisters got the brown bowl. I keep forgetting to ask if she kept up the tradition in her house. It had held great memories for all of us.