Spoons in the Oven

There are things that we always-always do because they are traditions. One year we found some holly on a hike and brought it home to add to the Christmas decorations and decided that was a good thing to do the next year and then why not the year after that, too.

A tradition is born.

Or maybe you’re more organized than I am and you actually plan traditions and think through the availability of said holly should you move from the Pacific Northwest to say, Southern California. Still, even when planned ahead of time, that’s a tradition.

And then there are the things that we always-always do the same way every every time, because….well, just because.

My grandmother became an unlikely entrepreneur in 1950 when she got tired of having to cajole my grandfather for spending money. She landed a job in an old fashioned nursery school or what today we might call a daycare center. After two years she had pulled the money together to take over the operation of a school called Windsor Nursery School in the basement of the formerly posh Windsor Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. For the next 20 years she was Mrs K. to about 25 children.

The hotel had left in place their art deco light fixtures, their china and their kitchen, which was probably well equipped for say, 1920. Each day the cook made macaroni and cheese or spaghetti hotdish for lunch on the old gas stove and each day they washed the lunch dishes in the old kitchen sink. My grandmother was a stickler about germs, so after washing and drying the spoons, the only utensil you really need for soft preschool friendly 1950s food, they would spread out the clean spoons on a cookie sheet and bake them in a hot oven. A good plan for killing any germs missed by hot soapy water.

Mrs K. retired at about age 70 and my mother took over. My mother was, and still is in her mid 80s, a person who draws her circle wide. So, where my grandmother had welcomed small groups of children who looked very much alike, my mother threw the doors open wide to children of all backgrounds and abilities.

My mother joined the local daycare council, became licensed and even started ordering supplies from a commercial supplier. They had to upgrade all of the food prep equipment to current standards including a three compartment aluminum sink with a special heated area for sterilizing dishes. The inspector came every few months to be sure everything was up to code. It was a very modern 1970s establishment.

The elderly cook from my grandmother’s era retired and a new cook was hired. As they showed her the daily tasks for cooking and making snack (almost always buttered bread cut into four squares) it came time to lay out the spoons on the cookie sheet and slide them into the hot oven.

“But why?” She asked. “You already sterilize the spoons in the third sink.”

Because. Because, that’s how we have always done it. That’s the way it has always been done. That’s the way we do it.


Windsor Nursery School never put the spoons in the oven again. And now, when something in our family comes along that we have always-always done the same way, we stop. We remember. We smile.

So many things we hang onto turn out to be spoons in the oven.