Plastic Freedom

Simple things make me think of her. The orange metal dustpan next to the fridge and her roasting pan on the wire rack in my stove. The pink flowered handkerchief I keep in a small pocket of my bag. The hanging matchbox I reach for every time I light a candle. Tupperware.

Two of my grandma’s favorite Tupperware pieces. A tiny cup she kept her pills in and the very well-used, super versatile 2-cup measuring cup. Grandma used these two every day of her life for as long as I can remember.

Ah, yes, Tupperware.

I celebrate Grandma every time I sweep the kitchen floor or light a candle, but there are few ways as fulsome as a attending a good old-fashioned Tupperware party to feel close to Grandma. I bought tickets for my mom and I to go to Dixie’s Tupperware Party this week as our way to remember and celebrate Grandma near the two-year anniversary of her death. Last night, we met Dixie Longate. Last night, Dixie introduced us to Brownie Wise. And last night, Mom and I gripped hold of memories sealed in plastic, wishing time could be stored for the future like a block of cheese in a classic Square Round.

My grandma was a Tupperware lady. She loved the stuff, not just because of the innovative, versatile designs. No, one could not adore bowls as much as Grandma did if not for the way they represented an opportunity for income, friendship, and sociability in an era when opportunities for women were commonly hampered by mundane social expectations void of luster or lucrative potentiality. In short, there was freedom stored in that Tupperware.

Grandma would have laughed so hard at Dixie’s party, I’m certain she would have peed herself. I, on the other hand, couldn’t distinguish between my tears of laughter and streams of longing. Grandma left too soon; this might have been the party of her life. To see the fragments of freedom she once reached for and stored away safely in air-tight containers evolve from being the center of conversation in living rooms of little brick houses to that of the widely acclaimed tour in theaters across the country would have been such a treat for her. It was a real Tupperware party, full of Americana, served up with a new flavorful twist.

Grandma often talked about wanting a Tupperware can opener because it hurt her hands to use a regular one. She wrote “DL” (her initials) clearly on each bowl, server, and seal she owned with a fine-tip sharpie to ensure the return of any item she took to Northern Colorado Ole Foxie dinners or family gatherings. She stored small tools in Tupperware, carried iced tea in tall tumblers when leaving the house for the doctor or to go shopping, and served ice cream in “lil’ dishes” all my life. What once was referred to in frustration by my family as as Tupper-f*!$ing-ware is now a set of treasured memories, sealed air tight.

Before Grandma died, she asked me several times what I wanted of hers when she was gone, and offered me anything I desired. It was a conversation that made me squirm in discomfort each and every time. I always responded the same way: “Oh, Grandma, I don’t want anything. Don’t talk like that.”

The last time we had the conversation, we were standing in the kitchen, her back to the north wall. The kitchen counter provided stability as she stood on aching, fragile feet facing me, and with tears streaming down her face at the sense of having nothing of value to offer as perceived by her granddaughter, she begged me, “Will you please use my Tupperware? Will you please take care of my Tupperware and use it when I’m gone? I know you are the only one that will.”

My grandma lived a modest lifestyle. She kept a clean yard and an organized silverware drawer, even if the rest of the house was a scattered mind. She kept wedding reception napkins, baby announcements, her kids’ report cards, household spending journals, and lists of things she wanted to accomplish for 60 years in boxes, in bags, all stuffed in bigger boxes in the basement. And she had an arsenal of Tupperware used throughout the house.

Last night, I bought a Tupperware can opener and a few other pieces because it’s what Grandma would have done. I laughed and cried as Dixie educated men and women about the Tupperware Home Party visionary, Brownie Wise, and told the story about how Brownie fanned the flame of dreams for independence, freedom, and success in the droves of women who, like my grandma, built an empire that, from small plastic bowl sales in humble living rooms all across America in the 1950s, became one of the world’s most recognized brands because of one thing: the Tupperware lady.

Although she sold it for only a short time in the 1960s, my grandma was a proud Tupperware lady at heart until the day she died. I couldn’t be prouder to care for and use the containers that stored her quietly enduring aspirations, self-confidence, courage, and one last wish.

Dixie and I after I purchased the Tupperware can opener that Grandma always wanted. (November 20, 2012)

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To learn more about the Tupperware story and Brownie Wise, visit PBS online:


2 thoughts on “Plastic Freedom

  1. Your words bring to life childhood memories of simple and beautiful times. Dinners at your grandma’s house always yielded the take-home bowls and everyone enjoyed it. I can close my eyes at any given time and see those settings of togetherness and warmth, the kind of gatherings that would have been inspirational to Thomas Kinkade paintings. Thank you as always for your wonderful view of things BB.

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