The Language of Spoons Sr. Anna-Camille

The very first regular work I did at the monastery was helping with dishes. I started with drying and putting away. We have an industrial type of dish washer, so you have to prove yourself on the drying, and then move on to the scrubbing of pots and pans (the Helper job) before you are taught to use the dishwasher.

So, my first job was learning where everything in the kitchen was put. It took a fair amount of time--actually a lot of time. Even more recently there was something unfamiliar that I was trying to put away. There was a UFO shaped object, solid metal, it fit perfectly in the palm of my hand. No one could tell me what it was for--except Nico of course. Apparently, you use it along with soap when you are washing your hands. Especially when you are washing your hands after handling garlic or any other strong-smelling substance. It takes away the odor. And it actually does. I learned that it is kept on the windowsill above the sink where it can be grabbed quickly whenever needed.

But by far, the most difficult kitchen items for me to put away correctly turned out to be the monastery spoons. And I mean just the spoons to use for eating, not all the types of spoons that Nico might use for cooking. There are 5, distinctly different places to put our “eating” spoons. And none of those places are next to each other. For the first month or so all the spoons looked alike to me. I did not find that the more senior sisters agreed with me about that. They just seemed to know.

So, I set about learning the proper storage of monastery spoons. We serve our meals buffet style so there is a tray with spoons, knives, and forks for sisters and guests to take along with their plates and bowls. Before anything else, I had to be able to correctly sort the teaspoons from the soup spoons. Harder than you might think, they look exactly alike. Only the size is different. By way of explanation, I will say that I had been living alone for many years before I came to the monastery and my use of utensils was based on 2 things: 1. what was clean at the moment and 2. what was on the top of the pile I had in the utensil drawer. I had never gotten around to buying a tray.

Once this was accomplished, I then had to make sure I wasn’t putting sugar spoons in with the teaspoons. This proved tricky as those sugar spoons look identical to the soup spoons, except they are shorter. Which made them closer to teaspoons, so for a while it was a 50/50 probability about where you might find I had put them. They went in a separate drawer in the dining room, along with butter knives--and tiny forks for picking up olives but whose real talent was getting stuck at the bottom of the dishwasher.


Location number 3 for spoons is another drawer in the dining room that holds the dessert spoons for ice cream sundaes. Other items in this drawer include bottle openers, matches, assorted napkin rings, scissors, and 2 candle snuffers. The sundae spoons are not all the same length, we have 3 different sizes. And one that has a red bead on the end and looks like a small shovel. We do not, as far as I know have sundae dishes of any size. These spoons have given me the least trouble since we rarely use them.

Location number 4 is the pantry where we keep our good dishes and table linens. These spoons are the “good spoons.” Like some Catholics they are only seen at Easter and Christmas. They have an intricate pattern on their stem, so they are easy to spot if you stay alert. 

Location number 5 is the kitchen itself. There is a drawer that has a silverware tray with a few of each kind of eating utensil. However, they are not exactly the regular variety, they are heavier, thicker, what silverware might look like if made by Husqvarna or Stihl. Luckily, they kind of stand out if placed with the regular spoons, so it was always easy to see my mistake if I dropped one in the regular tray.

I am now a Spoon Expert, and often come back into the dining room after dishes are done and everything is quiet and check the spoon trays to see that everything is where it should be. The differences between the spoons seem obvious to me now, I’ m not sure what my initial difficulty was. But I can say that whichever spoon I am putting into its place, I really can see them as vessels of the altar and so treat them with the monastic respect we owe to all things that serve us as we live our lives.








  • Comment posted by ANNA PETERSON on June 2, 2024 at 9:22AM (19 days ago)

    This is pretty funny and only you could write it. Reminds me of learning to drive a car: so many actions to remember. Thought I'd never learn. Now it's second nature of course. Which reminds me to recognize all implements in my life as gifts..

    • Comment posted by Sr. Anna-Camille Wooden on June 3, 2024 at 10:06AM (17 days ago)

      Yes, it's amazing how things can become 2nd nature that once seemed impossible. It's a good argument for perseverance (another Benedictine virtue).

  • Comment posted by Kathy Mattern Marshall on June 1, 2024 at 8:54PM (19 days ago)

    This is an absolutely lovely story from beginning to end. I too often notice if a spoon looks out of place and more often than that? I wonder where they all go when they are gone!

    • Comment posted by Sr. Anna-Camille on June 3, 2024 at 10:10AM (17 days ago)

      Oh yes, we too have the mystery of disappearing spoons, along with a large collection of plastic food storage containers and lids - none of which go together! How does that happen?!?

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