wooden spoons

As a special gift when I was born, someone sent my parents a little silver spoon and mug set engraved with my initials.  I don’t remember actually using them. They had to be polished to keep the silver shining, and I was very young when the spoon was seriously damaged after it got caught in the garbage disposal.  I do remember that later we used the silver mug as a water dish for our parakeet because it fit perfectly in his cage, and Chippy saw his reflection and made dent marks all around the edge.

The first spoon I actually used to feed myself–and also to happily fling food with abandon–was wooden. It was a little round-tipped spoon intended to be the dipper in a honey bowl.  Mom said I had the best time banging it on the table and my bowl, and there was no annoying clatter that a metal spoon would have made.  I was the second child, so by then the novelty of cute baby things had been replaced by more practical, easily cleaned and audibly tolerated utensils and gadgets. The wooden spoon became a toy.

My mother was an excellent cook.  For soups, sauces, batters, oatmeal and anything that needed stirring, she preferred to use wooden spoons. She also recycled old wooden spoons for stirring paint, propping up house plants, and marking the rows in her garden.

One undesirable use for wooden spoons was for corporal punishment. This might come as a surprise to those of you who’ve followed this blog and the sweet stories about my mother:  her faith, intelligence, kindness and tenderness…and her love for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Mom was also a practical, common sense lady with a degree in early child development.  Even though she was vehemently opposed to spanking or slapping any child, she saw the thickly diapered bottom of a toddler as the perfect “get your attention” place when we wouldn’t respond to repeated words or gentle hands turning us in the direction we were supposed to go.

David and I were in diapers and plastic pants during much of the same time, toddling and racing about, getting into things, pretending we didn’t hear our mom.  One swat with the wooden spoon on our diapered behinds made enough noise to get our attention.  But strangely, the spoons began to disappear.  Mom said she looked everywhere–under tables and rugs, tucked in drawers and between sofa cushions, even in the trash–but she couldn’t find them.

I was past 3 and David was almost 5 when we moved from Ash Grove, Missouri to Fort Scot, Kansas.  The movers came to load the furniture into the truck, and when they pulled the old upright piano away from the wall, my mother said she gasped.  Behind the piano, back where only little hands could reach, were the five missing wooden spoons.  One of the movers shook his head and asked if she did much cooking at the piano, and Mom laughed so hard that she had to sit down on one of the packing boxes.

old piano

She was still sitting there when we came in from the neighbor’s house and saw her holding the spoons. Mom said we suddenly became timid, nervously looking down at our shoes, up at the ceiling, and anywhere but at her. Finally David asked what she was going to do with the spoons.

She answered that we had become very good listeners and she was proud of us, so from now on we’d only use the spoons for cooking and baking. And when we got to the new house, she was going to bake a batch of oatmeal cookies, and she’d give us each a spoon to help stir the batter.  And that is exactly what she did.

As a mother and a grandmother myself now, I love playing the piano, and I also love oatmeal cookies.  Even though my mom has dementia and doesn’t remember this story of the musical spoons, I sometimes play CDs of piano music for her while we eat cookies and drink chocolate milk…just in case.  You never know when music and cookies will trigger a happy memory.

The cup and the plate maybe ran away with the knife, but my brother and I hid the spoons.  Many years later, Mom's great-grandchildren used these wooden spoons as picture holders in pre-school.

The cup and the plate maybe ran away with the knife, but my brother and I hid the spoons. Many years later, Mom’s great-grandchildren used these wooden spoons as picture holders in pre-school.

cup and plate and knife embroidery




Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren

73 responses to “MUSICAL SPOONS

  1. georgiakevin

    Your post is so delightful to read, so well written. I remember a wooden spoon or two used on me for corporal punishment. They were the gentler tools for such punishment as I recall.

    • Thank you, Kevin, and please join us again.
      I’m guessing that more than must my mother used a wooden spoon for discipline. I wonder if there was an article or something somewhere that got mothers started. And here I thought she was an original! 😉

  2. What a wonderful and funny story. I love my wooden spoons too and their last resting place is usually the garden. I don’t believe there are any behind the piano. I did find a pile of cooked carrots under my son’s bed once. I thought he had finally started eating carrots when he was about 6 but, no, they had been fed to the space under the bed!

    • Oh, Gallivanta, between your son’s carrots and our wooden spoons, it’s enough to make young women think twice about having children.
      The pile of cooked carrots is a delightful image!

      • Fortunately they had not gone rotten; they were simply dehydrated. How they escaped the weekly clean I have no idea.

      • And of course insects, mice and pets would not be attracted to cooked carrots. 😉 Makes you wonder how long it would have been before your son decided it was time to sneak them out and throw them away. This would make a great children’s story, Gallivanta.

  3. What a cute story. My mom was also a sweet loving parent but knew when punishment was required and yes, wooden spoons and fly swatters were used, but not harshly. We weren’t clever enough to hide them though. (we also didn’t have a piano)

    • If we hadn’t had that big old upright piano, Darlene, I wonder where we would have tried to hide the spoons. It’s a good question.
      Our neighbor used a fly swatter to keep her son in line…until he went to 5th grade. He came home and informed her that the science teacher said that insects carried germs, and so she (his mother) was going to have to decide: punish him or kill the flies, but not both. THAT had his mom (and mine, and others, too) laughing for a long time. When he got married, two of the neighborhood moms gave him fly swatters as part of his wedding gift!

  4. What a cute story. It made me smile. I love using wooden spoons for cooking. I have one with a very long handle to stir my jam . It is stained from all the different fruits. I watched a teenager make wooden spoons with his feet on a lathe when I was in Morocco and of course I had to buy some.

    • Oh, I would have had to buy some, too, Gerlinde.
      I also can image the jam-stained long-handled spoon you use for cooking. You’d almost had to get rid of it. So many memories on one piece of wood.

  5. What a glorious story Marylin., and what a reminder as my padded bottom felt the slap of a wooden spoon on more than one occasion. ( I don’t understand why as I was as innocent then as now-cough). A great idea to use the spoons to hold pictures.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Of course you never deserved such punishment, David! 😉
      I’m amazed that the wooden spoon paddler is so common, everywhere here and across the ocean, in the hands of so many of our mothers. Maybe we should bring them back for this generation and get them to straighten them out?

  6. She may not remember the piano spoons but she might recognise the music. My grandfather was hearing Chopin in his head the last time my father saw him. And my brother was hearing choral music. I’m convinced its a great solace. Perhaps some xylophone music might sound like the spoons!

    • You certainly might be right about the music recognition, Andrew. There was an early Alzheimer’s article about the children’s songs that people in their 80s clearly responded to, often singing along with some of the words.
      The wooden spoons my brother and I hid never actually made any music; we just hid the behind the piano in hopes we wouldn’t get any more swats. But xylophone music would be interesting to try with my mother anyway, since her grandchildren used to play with toy xylophones at her house when they visited.

  7. Don

    Loved the story Marylin. I also remember the wooden spoon in our home, a little threatening, but I remember it with a strange kind of fondness. Sounds a bit funny doesn’t it?

    • The strange fondness is understandable, Don. I doubt either of our mothers used them in anger or severely punished us; my guess is that they used them to get our attention and improve our actions. A swat with a wooden spoon certainly got my attention!

  8. Lovely story, Marylin. What a great idea to use the spoons as picture frames, very creative. 🙂 It’s amazing what we find behind furniture when we move. I once found concert tickets that had fallen behind my dresser…five years later.

    • So I take it that you didn’t get to go to the concert, Jill. 🙂
      When my daughter bought her first house, all the rooms had new wallpaper, carpeting or tile, and two different remodelers had worked on the house over a long period.
      In the bathroom, caught between the loose boards in a corner, I found a pierced earring, what we thought was a fake diamond in a stud. Later we learned it was a real diamond, not a big one, but it looked nice when it was set in a ring. We had called the sellers to see if anyone had lost an earring, but no one had.
      Our “found” item was more exciting than the wooden spoons my mom found behind the piano, but hers is a sweeter story.

  9. Gwen Stephens

    Another wonderful story, Marilyn. Wooden spoons had the same variety of uses in my home, growing up. But that was a different time, and corporal punishment was just the way things were done. I have my own collection of wooden spoons now and replace them regularly when they wear out. Fortunately, my kids have never been compelled to hide them 😉

    • Times have changed, that’s for sure, Gwen. I wonder what would happen today if a child told a school social worker that her mother used a wooden spoon to punish her. It sounds so much worse than I ever remember it.

      I do remember, though, that when I was in 4th grade, my piano teacher kept a wooden spoon nearby during my lesson. It was a warning threat; if I let my hands get lazy on the keyboard, she would rap my knuckles to get me back in form.

      • Gwen Stephens

        Wow! A wooden spoon by the piano! I guess that’s not much different than the ping pong paddle my 5th grade teacher kept in the classroom, just in case he needed it. You’re right, it sounds pretty ominous now when we discuss it.

  10. What a wonderful story Marylin. I would be lost without my wooden spoons and some of my happiest memories are of ‘helping’ my mum mix cake mix with a wooden spoon in her ceramic mixing bowl and then being allowed to lick the spoon afterwards 🙂 I did the same with my children. Our dog Bonnie also loved those spoons and got hold of one once as a puppy and chewed the handle before I caught her. That is absolutely classic that you and your brother hid them behind the piano and I love the picture I now have of your mom laughing so hard when she made the discovery 🙂 Thoroughly enjoyed this trip down with you down memory lane,, thank you for a great read. Have a lovely autumn weekend Marylin 😀

    • Your wooden spoon memories are so much happier, Sherri. Helping mix cake batter as a child, and then as a mother letting your children do the same. Dogs would be a problem, though. Especially puppies. Wooden spoons are just the right size–and taste, too, if they’d been used to stir stew or soup–the splinters would be a problem.
      A lovely weekend to you, too, Sherri.

  11. Wooden spoons were in a woman’s hands for whatever needed to be done! I still use wooden spoons over others. I used to carry one in my purse to church. I took a lot of teasing about it but too rowdy and a show of spoon helped quiet the pew!

    • Oh, Claudia, this would make a great scene in a children’s movie like THE CHRISTMAS STORY, etc. The kids start messing around in the pew during the sermon or the prayer, thinking they’re getting away with it. Then they see a woman staring at them; she picks up her purse, opens it slightly…and they gasp. Inside the purse is a wooden spoon, just waiting to get them back in line!
      This is great, Claudia!

  12. Very funny! I love this story and all the happy memories it stirs up. I asked for wooden spoons for Christmas last year as I just didn’t have enough and daughter came through. I think of her each time I use one. Thank you for sharing this sweet story. I love that you play CDs for your mom while eating oatmeal cookies.

    • I don’t know if it actually helps, Georgette, but it makes for nice background music while we eat cookies.
      I gave my mother some wooden spoons for Christmas one year. I was an adult with my own daughter by then, but I wrapped them in a box in really nice paper and a satin bow. When she opened them, she laughed and laughed at the story we all knew by them. And then she used them when she made oatmeal for breakfast the next morning…and we laughed again.

  13. This story makes me smile. Brings back many memories. My mother didn’t use wooden spoons, but I always have. My husband has carved many a spoon for me. Your mother is truly a dear and turned situations into a positive lesson.

    • Thank you, Lynne. My mom really did have a knack for turning things into positive lessons.
      I love that your husband has carved wooden spoons for you. I hope you’ll do a post on it sometime and tell what kind of wood and what tools he used. That would be fun to try.

  14. Your musical spoons (love the title) have competing connotations as your tales tell. When the children were little, I of course used wooden spoons, one of which I took to the grocery store as a threat against misbehaving. It usually worked!

    I love wooden spoons for cooking and I’m told if you place a wooden spoon over a burbling pot it will not boil over. Right now we are finding all kinds of utensils as we pack away Mother’s kitchen, for the last time fingering spoons, spatulas, and sifters that she loved.

    When I finished reading your post the lyrics “. . and the dish ran away with the spoon” played in my head. Your posts never disappoint. This one is choice!

    • Oh, Marian, I can just see you, armed with a wooden spoon as you keep your children in line at the grocery story. This would make a fun story to get them started telling at a big family dinner!
      Cleaning out your mother’s kitchen now, and touching all the spoons and tools she used, is a much more solemn memory, isn’t it? Even though my mother is still alive, the dementia has taken so much. When I cleaned out their house after they moved into an assisted living facility, the memories that made it most difficult were the ones in the kitchen.

  15. juliabarrett

    I still have my gramma’s wooden spoons. Wouldn’t part with them for the world. But they were never used for corporal punishment. That was a palm. While I can’t support hurting a child, a quick potch, as we say, can fix some very bad behavior real fast.

  16. Love reading your memory of the spoons and piano – a connection of past and present. Wonderful Marylin ~

  17. I like that the silver cup was then used by Chippy – that’s very sweet for some reason 🙂

    • Chippy was very nosy with the silver mug. At night when we went to bed, we covered his cage with a dish towel. As soon as the lights went out and everything got quiet, it was Chippy’s signal to perform. We’d hear peck-peck-tap-tap, his beak attacking the little mug. Actually, it was kind of a predictable, comforting sound.

  18. I absolutely LOVE this post. To think of you and your brother hiding those spoons is just wonderful and I’d have loved to witness your mother’s face when she discovered them. What a fantastic memory – and to have the spoons still is like having a very precious heirloom.

    • Just telling the story used to make my mom start laughing until she had to sit down, Jenny. It’s one of those memories that played out over and over, a reminder of how much she loved being a mom with two children, and how every day was an adventure.

  19. How clever of you and your brother to find a great hidey place for those wooden spoons. We used them to stir cookie dough and the like. I have a few that I use today for cooking and/or stirring.

    A beautiful story, Marilyn, filled with many happy memories. 😉

    • I don’t know that it was cleverness–or desperation–that made us hide the wooden spoons behind the piano, Judy. My guess is that it was something that just spontaneously happened with one spoon…and then, when it wasn’t found, it became the go-hiding place. But is a happy memory to consider now and picture the two of us hiding the spoons.

  20. Life and Other Turbulence

    This was delightful! Made me think about the years when our oldest son had a huge sweet tooth (when he was very young), probably because I rarely had any sweets or candy in the house…except at Halloween time. I always hid the leftover stash high up on a shelf in the pantry closet where it was out of view, but somehow the candy supply always became quickly depleted. I just assumed it was my hubby who’d been dipping in there after the kids were in bed. It wasn’t until years later when movers lifted our heavy dining room cabinet away from the wall that we found tons of candy wrappers crammed in behind it. Like your mom, we roared with laughter. Our son (who’d just turned 6) came to see what was so funny and then turned beat red as he mumbled “..busted”. He’s 31 now and he’s completely lost his sweet tooth. Go figure!
    I always enjoy your posts…such wonderful memories!

  21. dianabletter

    Bewitching wooden spoon story! We used wooden spoons with all our kids to make a band – we called ourselves The Idiots. We banged on everything and always had fun, tone-deaf and hysterically laughing! Thanks for the story, Marylin!

  22. Ahhh ! Run ! Flee ! The giant wooden salad spoons are the WMD’s of Sicilian women. They are used to beat the children(sometimes husbands) and have never been anywhere near salad and mixing bowls.

    • I love that the wooden salad spoons are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Sicilian women! What a wonderful detail, Carl. Ah, the things women do to raise children and men. Thanks for sharing this.

  23. Jane Thorne

    I love wooden spoons too. The chap who lived in my old cottage before me is a carver and he made me two spoons before I moved in. One out of Cherry wood and one of Apple. They are in the kitchen window of my new place now and I treasure them. ❤ xX

    • I’d cherish them, too, Jane. Wooden spoons hand carved of cherry and apply wood–what a gift! Mine were always just plain wooden spoons purchased at general stores or in bulk from mail order.

  24. I laughed so hard!!! as soon as you said “the spoons started disappearing” I knew you kids were the culprits! This was truly great Sunday morning reading! 🙂
    ps. I am sure your mother appreciates hearing those piano cds, too.

    • I tried, Karen–I really did–to nudge a reaction during this visit, but nothing worked. Reading poems didn’t work, and piano music didn’t work.
      Each time I think of the wooden spoons and imagine my mother laughing so hard she had to sit on a packing box, I want so badly for her to be able to remember that, even for just a moment. I know she would love it.

  25. Very resourceful of you to find such a great hiding place! But I also like your mother’s reaction when she found them 🙂 Wooden spoons were only used for baking in our house, I’d get a slap on the thigh for corporal punishment.

    • Actually, Andrea, in the overall scheme of things, it’s probably better to keep spanking wooden spoons separate from those used for baking, don’t you think? 😉
      And for storage behind the piano, too…

  26. And I love this story! It might be my all-time favorite!

    My mother still feels guilty about the time she threw a (little) cup of warm dish-water in my face. I had gotten into the habit of screaming bloody murder when I didn’t get my way (I was 2, I think) and she was washing dishes when I let loose. Without really thinking, she splattered me. I gasped, sputtered, teared up (those crocodile tears used to get her every time), and stopped screaming.

    And never screamed again. As an adult who finds a child’s scream to be worse than glass splintering, or chalk grating on a board, I think she did the right thing.

    • What a great detail, Tracy! I can just see you, a 2-year-old toddler throwing a screaming fit, and the cup of warm dish water snapping you out of it. Like a cute version of THE EXORIST–the demon in you was christened out of power with dish water!–what a terrific story! I love it.

  27. Nancy Parker Brummett

    What a sweet memory and story, Marylin. And how clever of you and your brother! At least your baby cup was useful. Most just tarnish in the back of the cupboard.

    • I don’t know if we were clever, Nancy, and honestly, I was so young that I don’t really remember any logical thinking on our parts at all. But the little silver cup with the dents around the edges by Chippy’s beat, THAT was something I do remember clearly. I was very impressed, actually.

  28. My memory of wooden spoons is of two or three months before Christmas when mum made the christmas cakes. Everyone had a turn at stirring the batter with a wooden spoon and making a wish. I used to wish the batter wasn’t so stiff so my hands could stir it more easily. After the batter was spooned into the tins (a set of four round ones in diminishing size) we got to scrape out the giant bowl and lick the raw batter off the spoons. Luckily I was near perfect as a child and didn’t require spooning from my mum 😉

    • Of COURSE you were a near perfect child, Rod–oh, wait, I seem to remember some great posts about you as a little guy–and frankly, a good swat might have helped you. 😉
      But I love the image of everyone taking turns stiffing the Christmas cakes’ batter and making a wish. What a lovely tradition.

  29. Jim

    My mom always used her hand instead of a spoon for the dreaded spankings. One time I ran from her and went upstairs. I put a book in my pants before she got to me. I had seen Huey, Duey, and Louie use a book before a spanking in a Donald Duck comic book. It worked! I didn’t get a spanking that day. Mom started laughing so hard when she saw the book in my pants that she forgot why she was gonna spank me. 🙂

    • Oh, honey, I remember you telling this story, and Oma (your mom) nodding and laughing and agreeing. You’ve always been so good-natured and patient with Molly–and now your grandchildren, too–and you would laugh, too, if ever any of them “protected” themselves from a paddling…except you’ve never even considered spanking or paddling, so it wouldn’t be a possibility.

  30. Oh Marylin, what an awesome story! I love love love the visual picture of those spoons being found behind the piano by your mom. 🙂 Glad she decided to use them just for cooking after that.
    Thank you for a story that gave me a big smile!
    xo Joanne

    • You’re welcome, Joanne. It makes me laugh, too, and I wish my mother could–just for a few minutes–clearly remember some of these funny scenes, and how happily and wonderfully she responded to them!

  31. What a great story, and I can just imagine the dread you and your brother felt when the spoons were found! We use wooden spoons for cooking, and I hate to think how old some of them are. Even though we wash them well, I’m sure the experts would tell me they’re laden with all sorts of bad bugs!

    • I noticed something tonight, though. I was making stew and stirring it with a big plastic spoon because my wooden spoons were dirty. Did you know that a plastic spoon will warp and kind of melt it it’s left too close to the pot on the stove? All my wooden spoons have singed and burnt marks on the wood, but tonight I didn’t notice the plastic spoon until it was almost too late! I need to buy more wooden spoons!

  32. So funny! I tried to imagine you and your brother sneaking the spoons away from the kitchen, thinking you were so clever as you tried to save your behinds. A golden story.

  33. But it must have been kind of traumatic for us, Darla, because David and I don’t remember the process or the sneaking away with the spoons, etc. Or at least we don’t admit it.
    Just between us, though, I think he remembers but won’t admit it. He was almost 5 and I was only 3 1/2, so it was all his fault. 😉 That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

  34. Your story made me smile, Marilyn. I can visualize mom with her wooden spoon as I have used it for those purposes as well.😄 I love how you’ve kept the spoons in the family. Have a great week!

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