Material Object: Eunice Byun
As told to Joshua David Stein. Illustration by Lucilla Tubaro.
What's the most important item in your home? In our series Material Object, we explore that very question, asking some of our favorite people which of their possessions connect them to their past, to their family, and to themselves.
In this special edition, our very own co-founder and CEO Eunice Byun shares the story behind the silver serving utensils passed down to her from her mother-in-law.
When my now husband Dan and I first started dating many years ago, we’d often visit his parents at their house just outside of Philadelphia. Dan’s mom, Jin, was an incredible, extroverted, stylish host and an amazing cook. No matter what time of day or night we rolled up, there would be some sort of spread. She cooked from all over the world. She loved sushi. She was crazy for shrimp cocktail so there would be mounds of shrimp with cocktail sauce. She’d make some sort ofguk (soup), kimchi jjiggae or gyeran jjim (Korean steamed eggs).
So many of my memories at that time revolve around the table. Jin would appear from the kitchen with loads of food. We’d sit and enjoy it. Dan's family was boisterous. They’d tell stories, laugh, argue, and eat. Every so often, Jin would return to the kitchen only to emerge a few minutes later with what seemed like another entire meal. This went on for hours. For me, who had grown up with far more efficient dinners, this lingering joyfully around the table was a revelation.
In Jin’s hands they were elegant, effortless, polished to a high sheen. I spent many nights up with Jin, who was always the last to go to bed, drinking wine and listening to her stories, with these on the table, peering at our wavy happy reflections.
Since Dan’s father worked for the Department of Defense, the family relocated often. Jin accumulated various objects during their travels. One of these items was a pair of silver serving utensils, a large spoon and a two pronged fork. The bowl of the spoon was slightly irregular and the prongs of the fork were wavy, like a sea creature’s antennae. In Jin’s hands they were elegant, effortless, polished to a high sheen. I spent many nights up with Jin, who was always the last to go to bed, drinking wine and listening to her stories, with these on the table, peering at our wavy happy reflections.
Eventually Dan and I got married. We had first Hadley and then Emmy. And his parents, naturally, got older. Shortly before they moved to California upon my father-in-law’s retirement, Jin gave us this silver spoon and fork. Even at the time, I felt it was a little bit fussy: so pristine, so elegant. But I was happy, of course, to have it in our home in New York to use during our own feasts. I cook too, not as prodigiously as Jin, but with the same welcoming spirit. I’m not precious about the silver, and over time it has dulled, developing a dark patina with hints of purple, green and blue. It is worn but worn with care and use.
As I hold the weight of the spoon in my hand, I admire the iridescent markings years of use has given to the silver. They are dulled but still beautiful and in fact there's a beauty in how they've aged, how even in their clouded state they still serve, giving comfort and love to all who come to our table.
Three years ago, my mother-in-law began to get sick. She started to forget things and became disoriented. Eventually this developed into full blown Alzheimer's. Dan’s parents moved back to Korea, where Jin has easier access to healthcare. Dan’s dad still takes her to the seaside, where he tells us she enjoys hwe (sashimi) and ganjang-marinated crab, but she’s so very far away now.
Back in my kitchen in New York, I hold onto this spoon and fork as both a memory of Dan and my first years together but more importantly as a memory of that vibrant person who Jin was, that laughing, loving woman who welcomed me into the family. As I hold the weight of the spoon in my hand, I admire the iridescent markings years of use has given to the silver. They are dulled but still beautiful and in fact there's a beauty in how they've aged, how even in their clouded state they still serve, giving comfort and love to all who come to our table.