Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Legacy of the Glass Grapes

And it came to pass that there was a certain Mormon Sister, an industrious and cheerful homemaker, who sensed an emptiness in her life. But, ever diligent, she quickly found the source of her discontent. It was the lack of ornament on her coffee table (although, technically, ‘coffee table’ is an oxymoron in the Mormon culture). As she bore the important calling and responsibility of leading her fellow Sisters (another oxymoron) in matters of Home Beautification, she girded her loins and bravely marched into her local craft shop.

In an inconspicuous corner of the shop she found her answer in the form of walnut-sized round glass balls, rather like large beads, in great abundance. A rainbow of gold, red, pink, orange, pale green, and oh, yes, purple, glowed warmly at her. They could be wired together in clusters, trimmed with florists’ leaves, and made into an article of rare beauty─a clump of glass grapes.

Thrilled with her success, she began to impart her knowledge and skill to other Sisters, generously sharing of her time and expertise. And it came to pass that the home of every Sister in her stewardship (except the home of Sister Evergreen, who had spent five years in a commune) was graced with the centerpieces. It was as close as most Sisters would ever get to stained glass windows, anyway.

It was mesmerizing to gaze upon them as the sun shone through the lovely orbs, sending their soft beams of colored light throughout the room. Fretful children were quieted by simply gazing at them, and more than one miserable infant found relief by finally cutting a bothersome tooth on the cool, hard, smooth surfaces of the grapes. A mother was heard to croon: “And here’s little Nephi’s first tooth . . . isn’t it sweet?” while pointing out small scratches on her treasures.

And then the centerpieces took on a life of their own. Like the omnipresent (although admittedly bio-degradable) zucchini, they seemed to reproduce overnight, and began to appear all over the state of Utah, and their popularity spread throughout the Intermountain West. The Sisterhood, a strong and generous network, became anxiously engaged in spreading them across the land. It was a bountiful harvest indeed.

Within months there was not a state in the nation which did not boast at least one of the beautiful artifacts. They materialized at wedding showers, birthday parties, and anniversaries, and became as prolific as . . . well, as the Mormons themselves.

The first Christmas after their debut (The Christmas of The Glass Grapes), was fruitful indeed, nearly as successful as The Christmas of The Crock Pot, more appreciated than the Christmas of the Thigh Master, more appreciated than the Christmas of the Chia Pet, less dangerous than the Christmas of the Veg-o-Matic, which increased holiday visits to the emergency room for sutures, and definitely less painful than the Christmas of the EpiLady (the EpiLady was an alternative to leg-shaving, a device that promised to painlessly pluck hairs out at the root, while in reality causing more weeping than a Hallmark commercial).

At the height of their popularity, though documentation has not been found to substantiate this claim, some historians suggest there was even a resolution before the House which proposed that the glass grapes replace the humble (though admittedly edible) Sego Lily as Utah’s State Flower. Following spirited nonpartisan debate, however, it was defeated by a narrow margin.

The cultural importance of the grapes is undisputed. For example, at a Hooper, Utah high school graduation ceremony in 1968, one senior was heard to sing his own version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, including the line, “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of glass are stored.” The centerpieces inspired several novels. The Grapes of Glass, a self-published work which which unfortunately sold only 75 copies, is listed on The Endangered Books List. The author's next attempt, Grape Gatsby, was even less successful, and his heirs recently disscovered a partial manuscript among his papers, entitled Grape Expectations. Historians also note that the glass grapes were not a strictly Mormon phenomenon, though a special regard for them is evident in family histories and photographs.

After a time, the glass grapes were gradually replaced with the next generation of centerpieces, Handi-Wipe Bouquets, which had the extra advantage of being useful when their beauty faded. An entry into a newly discovered journal may provide some enlightenment as to why the grapes declined in popularity: “I curse my glass grapes whenever I dust. They are impossible to keep clean.”

As the years passed, sadly, the glass grapes largely disappeared from public view and into the realm of eBay, where they are touted as “e-treasures, antiques, vintage collectibles, a delightful remembrance of this mid century era, for which you may bid with confidence.” Though a popular item on Antiques Roadshow, the centerpieces tend to have more sentimental than monetary value.

A few families quietly continued with the tradition of making and cherishing the centerpieces, and one collector even boasts a four-generation collection of the grapes, calling them “a better reminder of my heritage than the many LDS books I inherited from my grandmother.” One, one enterprising young man, a promising student in electrical engineering, actually made a clump of them into a lamp.
Reports also exist of family squabbles over Grandma’s clusters of grapes and her grape-making supplies after the funeral luncheon, and there were even challenges to the deceased's will, though other women are apparently “too embarrassed to admit they even knew how to make" the centerpieces.

Even now the grapes wait silently in attics, basements, and thrift stores, dusty and neglected, in hopes that they will someday be discovered by an archaeologist who might say:

“Aw, heck! Just another Mormon fertility symbol, circa 1967, though this particular shade of pink is rather rare.”


AnneLorene said...

Love it! My sentiments exactly. This is a wonderful humorous piece. And every word is absolutely true!

Shirlene said...

I'll be chuckling all day. Thanks for sharing your gift of writing with us today. I needed a laugh.

Jen said...

This is hilarious! Thanks for brightening my day!

Candace E. Salima said...

Janet that was hysterical. I was chuckling through the whole thing. You just started my day out right!

Don't forget to R.S.V.P. about our Blogger Babe luncheon on the tenth of January. Details on my blog, right-hand column! We really want to see you there. Hope you can make it.

Katie Parker said...

Great post, Janet! And those pictures give it that extra-special touch. :-)