Iowa Writes

RACHEL WILLIAMS
The Fork


It is so easy to take the simple things in life for granted. A few years ago my grandmother moved from her little house on Sussex Cr. to a small apartment. She had accumulated about 75 years worth of silverware, dishes, dishcloths, pots and pans. My uncle sent most of it to the Salvation Army. In her new life she would no longer need to cook. Her kitchen was now filled with just the essentials, a microwave, and a spiffy new set of Martha Stewart Picnic ware from the local K-Mart. The cheap plastic handles matched the four dishes, mugs, and bowls in her cupboards.

My uncle had taken nearly all of her mismatched silverware and placed it in an old shoebox. Most of it was silver plated so with time it tarnished. Some of the spoons were so worn the metal was actually thinner in spots and the shape had been changed by decades of slipping in and out of my family's lips. As I looked at the mismatched forks I saw breakfast lunch and dinner with my grandparents during the long lazy summer days I spent with them. When I left that afternoon to return to Iowa that box of mismatched silverware left with me. That was nearly two years ago. My grandmother died about two weeks after she moved. I think the change was too much for her and she was weary.

A few months ago a funny thing happened. It was a Tuesday night, like any other Tuesday night, my car was filled with snack wrappers, used coffee cups, endless receipts from the gas station, unidentifiable smells, crumbs, abandoned coats and socks and lots of art supplies. The bag I use to ferry paint back and forth to the prison each week was in the back seat and had doubled as my lunch bag. When I arrived at the prison the CO in the control center was Officer Smith, a talented artist and dear old friend. He has seen me come and go every week at ICIW on and off for nearly a decade. Needless to say he buzzed us through without searching my bag.

It is so easy to take the simple things in life for granted. A few years ago my grandmother moved from her little house on Sussex Cr. to a small apartment. She had accumulated about 75 years worth of silverware, dishes, dishcloths, pots and pans. My uncle sent most of it to the Salvation Army. In her new life she would no longer need to cook. Her kitchen was now filled with just the essentials, a microwave, and a spiffy new set of Martha Stewart Picnic ware from the local K-Mart. The cheap plastic handles matched the four dishes, mugs, and bowls in her cupboards.

My uncle had taken nearly all of her mismatched silverware and placed it in an old shoebox. Most of it was silver plated so with time it tarnished. Some of the spoons were so worn the metal was actually thinner in spots and the shape had been changed by decades of slipping in and out of my family's lips. As I looked at the mismatched forks I saw breakfast lunch and dinner with my grandparents during the long lazy summer days I spent with them. When I left that afternoon to return to Iowa that box of mismatched silverware left with me. That was nearly two years ago. My grandmother died about two weeks after she moved. I think the change was too much for her and she was weary.

A few months ago a funny thing happened. It was a Tuesday night, like any other Tuesday night, my car was filled with snack wrappers, used coffee cups, endless receipts from the gas station, unidentifiable smells, crumbs, abandoned coats and socks and lots of art supplies. The bag I use to ferry paint back and forth to the prison each week was in the back seat and had doubled as my lunch bag. When I arrived at the prison the CO in the control center was Officer Smith, a talented artist and dear old friend. He has seen me come and go every week at ICIW on and off for nearly a decade. Needless to say he buzzed us through without searching my bag.

When I arrived in the art room Keiba, one of my favorite students began to unpack the paint in search of a pint of metallic gold that I promised to bring. That is when she saw it. "Oh My GOD!" She exclaimed... "a fork—a real fork!!!". She grabbed it with both hands. I could see her enjoying the weight and coldness of the metal. She sat down holding that fork. "It has been fifteen years since I held a real fork." She walked over to Rita, "Do you want to hold this?" I anxiously watched Keiba pace around the room admiring that fork. I don't know how it managed to find it's way into that bag of paint. My panic subsided when Keiba gently put it back in my bag nestled among some papers and paintbrushes where the COs would not see if they came in for count. As I left the prison and drove home I marveled at Keiba's reaction to that old pitted tarnished fork. I will never see that fork the same way again.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


RACHEL WILLIAMS

Rachel Williams is an Assistant Professor of Art Education at the University of Iowa. She is the editing author of Teaching the Arts in Prison, published by Northeastern University Press in 2003. She also runs The Women in Exile Project, a collaboration between the women at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women, volunteers from the Women's Resource and Action Center, the Women's Archive at the University of Iowa Libraries and the Art Education Department at the University of Iowa. The project has worked with a select group of women at ICIW to publish a series of memoirs and images. The memoirs will become a part of the Women's Archive and the images part of a permanent collection located at the Women's Resource and Action Center.

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on March 16, 2011

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