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IRWIN: Formal glassware and kid entrapment
Andy Irwin

Ideally, this is for grandparents to read to grandchildren — in person or on the Skype or the Zoom, or your preferred video-talking-to-people app. There are some vocabulary words you will have to define. That’s half the fun. So gather in and let’s go. 

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As Thanksgiving has come and gone, maybe a positive outcome of the reduced numbers at our gatherings this year is the preservation of a bit of the “good dinnerware.”  Fewer people = fewer incidents. 

When I was young, our holiday gatherings were always at my uncle and aunt’s house. There, we experienced all the trappings of a formal dining table with all the various plates and bowls and cutlery for all the different courses and condiments. Even the salt was served in a minuscule vessel with a teeny-tiny spoon. I had to learn which plate did what, which fork was for what dish, and – for goodness’ sake – not to call flatware “silverware” unless it was silver. 

Most importantly, I was always warned of the delicate nature of the crystal stemware. 

A crystal goblet is more fragile than, say,  an everyday tumbler, but it is also more expensive. Now, to a kid, this is illogical and silly. Expensive things should not be more breakable than cheap things!

Take, for example, a tool… let’s say a pair of locking pliers. If your dad buys some off-brand locking pliers from the ValueNoName-Mart, and he puts them to work, and they break under the strain of normal use, your dad will say something like, “Dagnabbit, these fake vice-grips are useless and cheap!” 

And you might bat your eyes, turn on the charm, and ask, “Then Father, why don’t you get the good Vice-grips that won’t break as easily? Perhaps you have not made the most sound home-economy choice.”

And he might see the truth of your youthful wisdom and say something like, “You’re right kiddo! Out of the mouths of babes. I have been penny wise and pound foolish.” 

But the opposite is true for glassware. The more expensive it is, the easier it is to break. 

Kid, there was a time when there was nothing more common than a returnable Coke bottle. Back in the days before people were constantly adjured to “recycle, reuse, and repurpose,” individual Coke bottles – made of thick Georgia green glass – were returned and reused for years and years.  Yet these bottles were cheap. When I was a kid, the return value of a Coke bottle was 3¢. THREE CENTS, I tell ya!

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At this point, your grandparent may be lowering this newspaper to tell you a story from their bicycling feral childhood, a story of collecting discarded Coke bottles from around the high school gymnasium or somesuch place, and returning them to the grocery store for picture-show money — but not before looking at the bottoms of each bottle to read the embossed names of the cities from whence they came. These bottles survived the rigors of being jostled around in wooden crates and dropped down the chutes of countless vending machines.

But crystal... crystal will crack at the slightest tap of a brass button from the sleeve of an eight-year-old’s blue blazer. Trust me, I know.

And the sure-fail design of stemware… well, the liquid is contained in a vessel suspended on a skinny glass stick. So now, we’ve established that the glassware is expensive. And fragile. And top-heavy! And adults serve wine to each other in these things. C’MON!

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So now you’re a child being served water in a crystal goblet. The kid-entrapment begins because you and the universe know the only practical reason for stemware is its properties to create the oscillation of fluid in response to friction: the thin glass is resonant and the stem reduces the surface area. A finger circling the rim produces a pleasing, clear tone and — voilà! — happy music and a science lesson in acoustical physics, to boot. But is the kid allowed to make the glass “sing” by rubbing a wet finger around the edge? Of course not!

Grownups scold, “We don’t do that at the table!”

But where else are you going to do that?

P.S. — I remember being told that my aunt’s plates were made of “bone china.” At first as a child, I thought the plates were made from actual bones. Then I got older and realized how ridiculous that was, that it probably had another meaning, like the “tooth” of a saw blade or the outer “skin” of an old airplane. But then I became an adult, and a potter friend of mine informed me that I was right the first time! Bone China is made from a mix of kaolin, china stone, and bone ash. It makes me think of Jack who trespassed upon that giant. Quoth the giant: “Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman! Be he alive, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make  ... fine and translucent porcelain on which to serve... my bread!”

So, children, sit up straight, put your napkin in your lap, say please and thank you, and remember: a little lemon in the water gives your finger better surface friction on the rim of your glass. 

Andy Irwin is a native of Covington and a natural storyteller. He can be reached at