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Private Lives

I decided to make out my will today. Not the one with all the legal jargon leaving my estate per stirpes, in its entirety. That one's done. I'm talking the real thing: the Jell-O bowl will.It must be something about turning 50. It wasn't nearly as traumatic as the six months of apprehension beforehand. Yet ever since, I've found my mind wandering to the subject of inheritance, the things we leave our children, one way or another. Not that I never thought of them before. Mostly though, I've reflected upon the mixed bag of genes passed on to my sons _ their father's dominant brow and gift of gab, my bullheadedness and myopic eyes.

I've not been too concerned with earthly possessions except to wonder whether I can use up the last of mine at the exact same instant my allotted time runs out.

My parents nearly accomplished that, and my hat's off to them. A little cash was divided among us "children" upon my mother's death, and a few personal belongings, each painstakingly chosen to fit the beneficiary: the cherry dining room set to my sister, the Regulator clock to my brother, the silverware to me.

A short time before, however, nearly 20 years ago now, she'd told me to look through her kitchen. If she had anything there I wanted, to take it. She was selling her house and all of her belongings, a necessity she faced more easily than I.

It was a sad afternoon, sifting through the accumulation of 75 years. I saw myself as one of the scavenging women in Scrooge's Christmas Future. Perhaps I saw myself in my own kitchen in my own future. Either way, I'd about decided to leave empty-handed when I spotted the cookie bowl, a fat three-pounder I'd used for making cookies since I first followed the recipe on the back of a chocolate drop package. Kneeling on a vinyl chair, barely able to reach the measuring cups, sugar and Mixmaster spread out on the white enameled kitchen table, I'd plopped a half-pound of butter into that bowl.

I felt the spinning metal ribs of the mixer glide over its perfectly formed inner curve as I beat in the eggs. I heard the bowl reverberate with a solid hum; no clank of metal on stainless steel, no ping of glass. And when I folded in the flour, my spoon rolled down the side, across the bottom, and up the other side like new ball-bearing roller skates on a smoothly troweled sidewalk.

So, I lugged the bowl home, wrapped in a bath towel, stuffed in a carry-on. In no time my two sons recognized it, knew that a homemade cake or cookies were on the way, yelled for the licking rights to it, instead of the beaters. Through five moves and hundreds of batters, it persevered. A few more chips decorated the uneven rim, but the yellow and gold flowers on its ribbed exterior remained as vibrant as ever. The bowl hardly aged as my sons grew up, but its use diminished. We all got so busy.

Only recently, when my brother came to visit, did the bowl's true identity came to light. I pulled out the old heavyweight to make a fruit salad, cholesterol levels now uppermost in all our minds, and my brother's eyes turned into sparklers.

"So you're the one who got the Jell-O bowl," he said, eyes aglow.

Until that moment I'd completely forgotten that every Sunday Mother made Jell-O in the bowl, strawberry Jell-O with bananas. But once my brother spoke those words, the memory returned as quick as overcooked fudge returns to sugar. I could see that bowl on the top shelf of the ice box, the quivering red mass made solid by uninterrupted rounds of bananas caught mid-float on the surface. I could almost hear the soft, sucking release as my remembered spoon cut through and lifted an undulating crimson glob to my plate. And I swear I could smell that sticky-sweet, artificial strawberry and fresh banana mix of smells. Yes, once he spoke those words, the bowl would never again be called a cookie bowl.

When my sons returned for the holidays, I told them about their uncle's visit while I dished strawberry Jell-O onto their dessert plates and handed each a silver spoon.

Which brings me back to the will. And the decision. There are two sons. There is only one bowl. And, as I discovered this Christmas past, neither one gives a hoot about any of my possessions. They actually cheered when they saw I'd thrown out the sofa they'd jumped and napped and spilled chocolate ice cream on for more than 15 years. This is a bad sign. Sure as tarnish on fork tines, once they get to middle age that Jell-O bowl will cause trouble. The older one will remember it. The younger will swear he has no idea where it is. They'll discover it behind the antique microwave stored in the younger one's garage, and the fight will begin.

That's why I have to write the will. Not for today. Or tomorrow. But for the 30 years from now. If I can decide by then.

Sharron O'Dell Chambers is a writer who lives in Gainesville. Private Lives is edited by Mary Jane Park.