My Ohio: The Love Boat

A grandmother’s affections are shown through the unlikeliest of gifts.

There are keepers, and there are tossers. My grandma was a keeper. When she passed away, her Cincinnati home held three large closets packed floor to ceiling with items she stockpiled to give as gifts for weddings, birthdays, new babies, anniversaries.

My mom and aunt went through it all: candles, sewing supplies, picture frames, toys, cooking utensils. You name it, it was in there. Mom and Aunt Lea separated and sorted, organized and arranged. Then they decided where it would all go: to a grandchild, an antique dealer, charity, the curb.

It was during this sorting that they discovered 23 gravy boats. Each was identical: A round chrome bowl set on a base. No spout, no ladle. Each in a slightly yellowed gift box.

Why 23? At the time grandma died, she had 23 grandchildren. And so it was deemed that these gifts were intended for the grandkids.

My grandparents’ house was the family gathering spot. It still is today; my aunt and uncle live there now. Eleven years ago, on the day after my wedding, family once again met there. That was the day the first gravy boat appeared. Mom and Aunt Lea felt it was time to start distributing the boats to their rightful owners. A handful of the grandkids each received one, me included. There was a lot of laughing, and we have a photo somewhere of me and my cousins on grandma and grandpa’s front porch all holding our matching gravy boats. (Not to worry — there are more in the closet for those cousins without one!)

Being somewhat young and somewhat stupid, I saw no need for the gravy boat. First of all, I don’t like gravy. Secondly, I had just received a new gravy boat as a wedding gift that matched all my other new dishes. So, I regifted grandma’s sauceboat.

I thought it would be funny to wrap it up for my mom that Christmas. I didn’t expect her to keep it. I thought it would come right back to me (maybe be thrown at me as I ducked behind the Christmas tree). Mom tends to be a tosser. Rather than saving stuff, she gives stuff away. All the time, really. When I was visiting my parents recently, I found a piece of my childhood artwork tucked in my suitcase as I packed up to leave. Naturally, I thought she wouldn’t keep the gravy boat. But she did.

And now. Well, now, those gravy boats have kind of become family lore. They’ve ended up in Florida, California and Arizona. Mine — the one I gave away — is in Indiana.

Whenever my extended family gathers, those things are a hot topic. “Do you have a gravy boat?” One cousin just unwrapped hers this past Christmas. The grandkids report that the vessels are regularly pulled out for chip dip, guacamole, sometimes even gravy.

Now, I try to be a tosser too. I keep what’s useful, and I try to get rid of the nonessentials. But I do tend to appreciate sentimental things. And the gravy boat has become sentimental. That thing bonds us cousins from coast to coast and reminds us all of our Cincinnati roots. Even though we’re spread across the country, I feel a closeness for my cousins because of our shared ancestry. And while our grandparents didn’t show their love affectionately, they have created a generation of cousins who do.

Really, I’m fine with not having one of the gravy boats. I know if I really wanted one I could get one. I know that one was intended for me. And I know that even though grandma wasn’t great at showing us her love, she did love us.

Shoot, as I write this, I think I’m becoming even more attached to the gravy boat that I never wanted. Watch out, family…at our next gathering, I might just grab the guacamole and run.

Kate Harold is a freelance writer who lives in Cincinnati.