The Community Water Glass

As silly and unimportant as it seems, I still marvel at the fact that everyone in our house uses a separate water glass. These days, everyone I know takes such a thing for granted. But when I was growing up, my father and my two brothers and I all used the same glass. Only my mother�s was separate. This wasn�t due to a shortage of glasses. Our cupboard was full of them. And it wasn�t because my mother didn�t want to wash extra glasses. She enjoyed working in the kitchen, cooking, washing the dishes, and cleaning up behind her family of enthusiastic, rambunctious males.

I thought nothing of it. Drinking from the same glass was just the way it was. The subject was never discussed, no one minded or complained, no one worried about germs, and certainly no one wiped the edge of the glass before or after drinking. The glass wasn�t dirty. It was washed once a day, every evening.

We also didn�t hesitate, whenever the occasion arose, to drink soda pop from the same bottle. �Want a taste?� was a phrase heard often and eagerly acted upon.

Later, when our own children were growing up, my wife taught them to use separate glasses, as she had when she was growing up. When it first came to light, she found our community water glass situation a bit odd, if not downright unsanitary. She grew up with four brothers, and everyone in her family had used their own glass. And of course drinking from the same glass is unsanitary, now. I wouldn�t expect anyone to drink from my glass unless they were willing to be poisoned for life by the hideous microbes that dwell in my mouth, performing riotous functions according to the missions assigned to them by nature and by my own personal chemistry, which is built upon a foundation of fresh parsley, garlic, citrus, homemade madzoon (yogurt, for the uninitiated), coffee, and sundry other miracles of the good earth including fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions when they are in season, olive oil, vinegar, the occasional piece of chocolate, extra-sourdough French bread, soups of a decidedly freelance composition, beans, lasagna, fried potatoes, coleslaw, roasted peppers, and other concoctions too numerous to mention � honey, peanut butter, jam � a veritable encyclopedia of ingredients that, when combined, results in a clarity of mind that verges simultaneously upon hallucination and inner peace, roughly speaking.

My father�s mother used to tell about how she and my grandfather, when they were newly married and still living with my grandfather�s mother prior to 1920, ate their meals from the same plate. This was due to a shortage of plates. Nevertheless, it�s a beautiful scene. Much later in life, my grandmother used this as her excuse for having acquired so many sets of dishes over the years � enough to fill two or three hutches and many cabinets, and some of which had been used only once or twice.

My best guess, then, is that our community water glass came about as a result of the Great Depression, when the family didn�t have enough glasses and dishes to go around. It�s even possible that my father encouraged the situation in memory of those days, and in recognition of the closeness people share when they have next to nothing. Or, maybe he was just used to using one glass and it didn�t occur to him to change. Whatever the reason, in my mind, even this little detail makes a difference. I remember it with emotion and pride.

April 23, 2006

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