Spoon by spoon

The Fresh New Face of Griselda is out today! I am so proud to share this book about the courage it takes to find beauty—to create beauty—where it wasn’t before.

That’s the courage my grandmothers taught me.

In the book, Griselda collects teacups because, as my Nana told me once, “It’s good to start a collection. That way, you always have something to build on.”

A few years ago, I wrote this essay about one of my Nana’s collections. I wanted to share it today to celebrate the kind of courage she inspired and the courage I hope readers see in Griselda.

A portrait of Josie Sandoval, around age 7.My nana, when she was still Josie Sandoval, bought her first piece of Reed & Barton flatware in 1948. She was 13 years old, saddle shoes skittering over the polished marble floors of Barker Bros. in Downtown Los Angeles. Her mother had taken her there to pick out a birthday present, and she chose silver. Not a full set. Of course not a full set.

Just a piece. A spoon. A start.

She wasn’t sure, at first, which pattern she wanted — something sleek and modern, she thought.

Instead, a saleswoman talked her into a pattern called Francis I, with clusters of plums and pomegranates, berries and blossoms dripping off of each unapologetically baroque spoon, fork and knife handle.

“She said all that fruit would kind of camouflage any scratches over the years,” Nana explained to me. “And now I can see she was right.”

After that first piece, she built her collection a spoon at a time. A ladle when she had saved up enough babysitting money, salad forks for Christmas.

I think of her — standing on tiptoe, perhaps — over a display counter, handling the silver, surprised at its weight. It is an image as charming as her white bobby socks.

But it has occurred to me, too, that underneath my grandmother’s 13-year-old whimsy was an earnest and audacious belief in a future and a family she could not have entirely foreseen, but for which she would nonetheless begin to lay a table. She would create that future—she would fight for it—a spoon at a time.

“Choose your sterling carefully,” a 1940s-era advertisement cautions the soon-to-be housewife. “It is yours as long as you live. … You may change your china completely, wear out your rugs, see your first glasses go crashing with your first years. But your silver is there — beautiful, enduring, unchanged.”silverad

I have few possessions I can imagine lasting as long as I live. Our home is a new area rug unrolled at the foot of a hand-me-down sofa.

Our daughters slurp Cheerios off of mismatched department store flatware. And I often forget that, spoonful by spoonful, those harried breakfasts are becoming  something bigger: The Way We Spent Mornings. That, bedtime after bedtime, we are writing the story that Alice and Soledad will someday tell themselves about Where We Took Comfort.

(“It’s good to start a collection,” Nana says. “That way, you always have something to build on.”)

In 1952, four years after she bought her first piece of silver, Josie Sandoval became Josie Torres. In 1953, two weeks shy of her 18th birthday, she had the first of four children she and my grandfather would raise together.


My Nana as a young mom in 1956

“We were real poor when we were first married,” she told me. “And your granddad, he would feel so bad that I couldn’t buy any more silver, that when he finally got his first paycheck, he gave it to me and said, ‘You go shopping and buy some silverware.’ Well, I shopped all day long, and all I bought was a pair of pants for him and a bonnet for the baby. And then I opened a checking account. I never did finish my collection.”

Not too long ago, on her 80th birthday, Nana gave me her silver chest: 10 teaspoons, nine place knives, eight salad forks, nine place forks, two butter knives, an oyster spoon, a cream soup spoon, a gravy ladle and a jelly server — not just an heirloom, but an inheritance. Finished and unfinished. A constant work in progress. Something beautiful to build on and to fight for.