A Family Tradition

"A Family Tradition," by Elizabeth Barone

I wish there was a way to photograph those moments in life where you truly feel alive, perfect. Capture that feeling, forever preserved. There’s no way to actually save a memory, so I try to remember. I tell myself I’m going to write it down, and then I forget.

There’s a ducky bowl that’s been banging around since I was little. It’s a bit faded at this point, but otherwise in decent condition. When I was a kid, it was the coveted cereal bowl in the house.

I will fight to the death for this. It's a family tradition. 🥄

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I liked it because when you finished the cereal, the ducky “swam” in the remaining milk. My dad liked it because it was bigger than the other bowls, and the man loves his cereal fixes.

We fought over it, a lighthearted war. It became a race—who would get the clean ducky bowl first. For years this went on, victory cries ringing through the house every time one of us claimed it: “My ducky bowl!”

It became a running joke that, at some point, became a ritual. Ducky bowl was serious business. It traveled with us from apartment to apartment, finally ending up at my grandparents’ when we moved in during my senior year of high school. I poured snacks into it while I wrote my first novel, while I worked on homework during college, while I wrote code for clients’ websites—if Dad didn’t get to it first.

I kept threatening to take it with me when I moved out into my own place. Dad kept threatening to hide it.

I introduced my husband to it like he was meeting family: “This is ducky bowl.” When we got married and began packing to move into our first apartment, I grabbed ducky bowl from the rack of clean dishes and wrapped it in newspaper before Dad could see.

I smuggled ducky bowl out of my parents’ place like a thief.

During that first Christmas after or some other holiday, I confessed my crime to Dad. He feigned wounded outrage, and I tried to make it up to him. “You can have it on weekends,” I offered.

“You can keep it,” he told me, as if passing on a family heirloom.

For the first time in two decades—maybe longer—I had ducky bowl all to myself. Even though I bought a set of dishes with bowls twice as deep, it was still my favorite. I happily munched cereal, marveling at how the thing had managed to stick around. Some things I lose, others hover about me like ghosts.

And then Mike stole it.

“No!” I protested, reaching out for it as Mike poured cereal into it or ate cheesecake out of it. At first I thought he was just messing with me. Slowly I realized I was wrong.

I had a rival.

Again.

The race began anew: secret washing of dishes, stacking it beneath the other bowls in the rack so he wouldn’t see it; playful shock when he got to it first; considering hiding it in an unlikely place. It was these moments that I most missed my dad. (He’s still alive, don’t worry.) I missed the game, the shared running joke. All children grow up and out of their parents’ homes, but I think some small part of us stays behind.

Tonight I caught Mike reaching for ducky bowl in the rack.

“Damn it,” I muttered, feigning offense. I reached for it.

Mike grabbed a spoon. Gently he tapped me on the forehead with it. “Back, demon.”

I gaped at him in mock outrage. My grip tightened.

He tapped me again. “Banish your evil.”

“Unhand it or I’ll bite you.” I leaned down, jaw open, white teeth flashing.

“Banish your evil!” He bopped me on my topknot.

My teeth neared, Mike fending me off with the spoon, my eyes filling with tears of mirth, jaw straining from laughing while pretending to bite. Just as I grazed flesh, he released it, bringing his hand to safety.

“My ducky bowl,” I told him.

He reached for another bowl.

“Here.” I sighed and held out ducky bowl. “You can use it.” For now, I added silently.

Looking at the proffered bowl, he shook his head at me. “Demon.”

I will fight to the death for ducky bowl. It’s a family tradition.