By Suzanne Mattaboni
It was an accident, like Penicillin.
I brought a tomato-and-mozzarella salad to a holiday party and the hostess gave me back the wrong spoon. It looked circa 1978, with a tiny snowflake engraved on the handle, smudged nearly dull from use.
My home was lacking in teaspoons since my four-year-old son had a habit of clearing silverware into the trash after meals. As a freelance writer, I was also lacking funds for new flatware. I held onto the spoon.
My two kids had a penchant for arguing over everything and anything. If I handed them two absolutely identical objects, one child would moan over the seam being molded differently than on the other child’s item. I wasn’t happy about the prospect of convincing them to use a semi-antique, oddball spoon.
The moment it hit the placemat, it got a sideways look from my daughter Veronica, then six. “This isn’t ours,” she said.
I held it up like a courtroom exhibit. “Listen,” I said. “This is a special spoon. See the magic snowflake? Isn’t it cute?”
I placed it in front of her. “I want you to use it.”
Next thing you know, four-year-old Louis asked why he didn’t get the Special Spoon.
After that, the kids had to take turns eating with the Special Spoon. Years into negotiations over who got to use the Special Spoon, I wanted to gag myself with it. Finally, I confessed to the kids: enough already. It’s not actually special. I only said that so you wouldn’t reject it in favor of our other teaspoons. All five of them. But I was too late. By then, the snowflake spoon had solidified its status in the drawer.
When finances improved, I brought home a pristine, new set of silverware. The kids oohed and aaahed over the glossy utensils beaming up at us from the kitchen drawer.
“What are you going to do with the old ones?” asked Veronica, by then 11. She snatched up the lackluster 1978 snowflake spoon and clutched it to her chest.
“You’re not throwing it away,” she said.
I sighed. “Honey, I told you, I only said it was special so you two wouldn’t argue over it.”
“It is special,” she said, “and we’re keeping it.”
My heart squeezed in my chest as I imagined the life she would have if the millions of times I tried to make things special stuck half as well as this one.
How many other objects were there, cluttering the bottom of her dresser drawers maybe, unknowingly imbued with supernatural powers? How many precious pieces of our lives had she squirreled away that carried an enchantment that no amount of handling could smudge away, like the retro snowflake etched into the spoon’s handle? For my daughter, who saved everything from gum wrappers to pebbles to failed science experiments, there could be a mountain of things. Things I’d been nagging her to throw away for years.
It reminded me of when Louis’ second-grade teacher showed me one of his essays. The students were asked to describe The Best Thing About Themselves.
In addition to discarding flatware with abandon, Louis had an overdeveloped sense of danger. At four years old, he began to show signs of anxiety over the idea that no one lived forever. “Don’t worry, Lou,” my husband and I assured him. “Before you were born, we asked God to give you extra-strong everything. And He did.” We never heard more about it.
Until there it was, hanging on the classroom wall, years later: “The best thing about Louis,” he had scrawled in shaky handwriting, “is that he has extra-strong everything.” Louis kept his faith in the concept that I had ordered-up favors from the cosmos, just for him.
Like his imagined super-strength, the Special Spoon held sway over my children more raptly than I ever intended. Veronica believed in it longer than she believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, longer than she built elaborate traps to capture Saint Patrick’s Day leprechauns. She believed in it even after I told her it was a ruse. Which means it wasn’t.
At moments like this, I realize I’ve generated words that will ring back through countless incidental conversations, marriage vows barely dreamed of yet, and bedtime stories my grandchildren will hear.
When I remember that, I can abide by the fact that I didn’t pursue the path of a Manhattan powerbroker. I’m something stronger.
I created The Special Spoon.
Suzanne Mattaboni is a fiction writer, essayist, and retro podcaster. She’s raised two fun, creative children while juggling freelance projects, along with her kids’ school theater productions, Tae Kwon Do sessions, and Godzilla-themed birthday parties. More of her work at suzannemattaboni.com.
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