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Setting a place at the holiday table for those no longer with us

It's a bittersweet time of year, isn't it? We are busy preparing for the holidays, with last-minute shopping for gifts and food for the holiday meal. We are happy anticipating the joy of getting together with friends and family. Yet, as with any holiday or special occasion, we usually take a moment to think back to other celebrations with family members and become nostalgic or even sad as the memories stop us in our tracks. We may be shopping in a store when that special holiday song with come over the loudspeaker. Or, we may be in the kitchen, the day before Christmas, prepping the dinner for the family get-together.

Of course, it is not just the holidays that bring to mind the family members no longer with us, and it is not just the memories that creep in and stir something in our brain often times so unexpectedly. It is the little things that maybe we intentionally keep around us, so that our family remains close to us in some way. We feel them. They comfort us, as I say, in the little ways.

I have a set of Pyrex nested mixing bowls in four primary colors: blue, red, green and yellow. My daughter, Ellen, gave them to me about 10 years ago as a birthday gift because she remembered how I had talked about getting a set, similar to the bowls that my mother had used when I was growing up. There is something very comforting about cooking in the kitchen with the equipment I recall in childhood.

I don't know why these particular bowls resonate with me. Maybe it is because they were so frequently used in the kitchen of my childhood that the image of them has stayed with me all these years. Also, it seems that each particular size served a specific purpose and still does today as I reach for them to prepare a meal or set out the ingredients to do some baking.

The smallest is a 5¾-inch blue bowl, very handy for scrambling an egg for you can easily tilt the bowl slightly as you whip the egg with a fork. The next one is a 7-inch red bowl, just right for preparing a mixture of bread crumbs, grated cheese and parsley with seasonings, moistened with olive oil and red wine vinegar to stuff Cubanelle peppers, those long Italian light green peppers that my mother would prepare. The next to the largest bowl is an 8½-inch green bowl, very practical for a variety of food preparations, such as washing salad, draining noodles or creaming butter and sugar during the baking of cookies. This green bowl size is also practical to serve salad. The largest bowl is a 10½-inch yellow bowl, a mammoth size and useful when making cakes and cookies when the recipe calls for one to do all that sifting of flour and baking powder separate from the creaming process. This bright yellow bowl is also a colorful serving piece to place on picnic tables for summer barbecues.

These mixing bowls sit out on my kitchen counter, a constant reminder of my childhood and my mother cooking in the kitchen. Their sizes are handy and keeping them on the counter keeps them at hand. Of course, I am very protective of them and ask visitors in the kitchen not to use them. Instead, I offer a more durable stainless steel bowl that I keep inside the cabinets.

I wonder how many objects people keep in their homes that once belonged to family members and which are so much part of their lives today that they don't realize the subconscious comfort as they go about their day.

This brings to mind the country music song, "I Drive Your Truck," which won a CMA Award a few months ago. The lyrics are based on a true story of the father of Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti of Massachusetts, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2006. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, and his father now drives his 2001 Dodge Ram 1500. During a recent interview, the father said that it was his way of holding on to something of his son's.

Local resident Sara Sikes recalls that years ago, when her mother died, she had convinced her father to sell her mother's car to her. "He had a hard time letting go of it, even though we live in the same town," but he did, she said. "I used to feel very close to her when I drove it."

We all have our ways.

Parents of one of the children who died in the Newtown school shooting had been in the process of moving to Massachusetts when the tragedy occurred. After their relocation, they re-created their deceased daughter's bedroom in their new home, just the way it had been in their Newtown house.

Yes, we all have our ways. In the days ahead, we will look around our homes and our family table, and be surprised how, in little ways, we bring deceased family members to the dinner table.

Rita Papazian is a freelance writer and can be reached at ritajpap@gmail.com.

Rita Papazian

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