The Golden Bowl
by Alice Gubler Sabin
Illustration of two little girls, one beside a bed, the other kneeling on it, looing excitedly into a cbox they are opening

EDITOR'S NOTE: "The Golden Bowl" was originally published in The Relief Society Magazine, vol. 54, no. 11, pp. 823-828, November 1967. The story is inspired by Alice's enchantment as a little girl with two glass bowls her sisters bought as Christmas gifts for their mother..

Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library has made digital scans of Relief Society Magazine available online as part of the Relief Society Magazine Digital Project. This article is online there in the original format at:

The article is reprinted here with permission.

"Are you sure you don't want the package gift wrapped?" the clerk asked.

We shook our heads.

"We want to wrap it ourselves," Virginia said, and I blurted, "because we want to look inside some more."

The clerk chuckled and wrapped the gilded box in plain paper. We put our change on the counter, including the show ticket money Uncle Tim had given us, then took turns carrying our package home.

We got it past the family and into our room without being noticed. Virginia set it on our bed and I started to untie the string.

"Ellie, be careful. I'll unwrap it," Virginia said. She's two years older than I and thinks she's grown up.

I sat on the edge of the bed.

"You're sitting too close, Ellie," she said, so I moved a couple of inches.

When the package was opened, she folded back the crisp tissue paper, and there they were, gleaming at us—two golden bowls!

In wonderment, I lifted one out of the box and Virginia picked up the other. They were a set of flower bowls. Mine had a fluted edge that turned out like petunia petals, and Virginia's had a scalloped edge that cupped in like a half-closed water lily.

I held mine up to the light and it sparkled like yellow sapphire. "Oooh," I exclaimed, sucking in my breath. "Oooh," was all I could say, for how could anything have the gleam of pure gold and yet be so crystal clear?

They were of cut glass, radiating jets of reflected light like jewels. I was transported with joy.

"Pretty, pretty, pretty," I whispered and danced around the room, holding the bowl high above my head. "Mama will love, love, love our Christmas gift."

Then I tripped on the rug and the bowl flew out of my hands. Virginia groaned, and I shut my eyes tight, waiting for the crash, but there was none. Then I looked. The bowl had landed on my pillow.

"Ellie, how could you!" Virginia scolded. "Even if there were one hundred more bowls like that, we couldn't buy another one, for we don't have the money."

Weakly I sat down. We had planned and saved all summer to buy these for Mama. She had two little tables across the room from each other. There had to be two bowls. One wouldn't do.

"I'm sorry," I said, then laughed, "no, I'm glad, because everything is all right."

Virginia gave me a look that silenced me. I tucked my gift back in the box and she put hers beside it. "We'll put them away while they're still whole," she said, climbing onto a chair. She slid the box onto the top shelf in our closet.

She was content to leave the package hidden until Christmas, but I had to take a look every day. whenever I was sure of not being intruded upon, I'd climb after the box and then stand dazzled at what was inside. One day I thoguht I heard someone coming. I jumped, tipping the chair over and smashing the box against the foot of the bed. One of the bowls had spilled out and lay glittering in a dozen broken pieces on the rug. My heart fell kerplunk, like a rock, to the pit of my stomach. I felt horrible. Through simmering tears, I gathered the broken bits into an empty shoe box, vainly wishing that by some magic quirk the pieces would go back together again.

THE family was unusually gay at supper that night, especially Virginia. She bubbled. She had been like that ever since we bought the present for Mama. Putting her lips to my ear she whispered, "We have a secret, haven't we!"

My eyes smarted and I ducked my head.

Daddy looked up. "What! Cornmeal muffins, and you're not eating?"

My chin quivered and I knew I'd better get out of there. "Excuse me. I forgot to wash my hands," I said, sliding back my chair.

Locking myself in the bathroom, I buried my face in a towel and howled. Mama knocked on the door and I had to let her in.

She took one look at me, then drew me into her arms. "Why Ellie honey, what's the matter?"

"I don't feel so well," I sobbed. "Lots at school have sore throats."

She got a little flat stick from the medicine cabinet. "Open your mouth," she said, turning me to the light. She flattened my tongue under the stick and I gagged.

"Your throat isn't read at all," she observed, "but I'll swab it just for good luck."

And she did. I spit and spit.

"Where else do you feel bad?" she asked.

"All over," I said truthfully. She gave me an aspirin and put me to bed.

The next morning I assured her I was better and raced off to school. After school I hurried to the Arrowhead department store, though I didn't know why. I couldn't have bought so much as a penny pencil. Hopefully, I looked in the crystal and china department. There was a flower bow, not nearly so nice as the one I had broken, and a dollar cheaper, but it would be better than nothing. It was a pale orange. I felt desperate, for Christmas was only one week away.

Illustration of a girl, one hand pressed against a glass display case with a crystal bowl inside, with hints of other people in the background

Thoughtfully I walked home, kicking little rocks ahead of me. At Sister Simpson's gate I hesitated. Maybe I could earn money running errands for her, I thought, so I knocked on her door.

"Come in, Ellie. How nice to see you," she greeted.

"I came to help you," I said. "Do you have errands to run?"

"Bless you. I was just wishing for a little chick to run this book over to Grandma Bates for me."

I raced with the book and got back in time to help her burn trash in her incinerator, then I knew I must hurry home. She gave me three fat raisin-filled cookies and a big hug.

"Ellie, you're a darling for helping me," she said.

I simply couldn't tell her I needed to earn money. I would have to think of something else.

The next day I stopped at Turners. Mary Lou has three babies, and I thought she might need help.

"Ellie, you're an absolute blessing," she said. "If you'll play with the youngsters while I hang out clothes it will be a great help."

So I kept the twins from dragging the baby out of the bassinet until she came in, then she gave me three cookies and asked me to come again.

I could see that all I'd ever earn for Christmas would be cookies. I was worried about Virginia, too. She might discover anytime what had happened. I wanted to tell her the whole miserable truth, but I didn't have the courage.

When I got home, Virginia pulled me excitedly into our room. "Look, Ellie, what Aunt Janet gave us!" She held up a shiny sheet of green foil paper and a white ribbon bow, with peppermint stripes of green. Her eyes danced. "We can wrap the packages now."

Again my heart dropped like a rock to the pit of my stomach.

Just then mama called, "Virginia, there is someone to see you."

Whew! Saved for a few minutes anyway. Slipping into my coat I ran to Sister Simpson's house, knocking loudly on her door.

Opening it, she exclaimed, "My land child, you're winded," and drew me inside.

"Sister Simpson, I need help quick," I panted.

She sat me down and I tried to talk but my voice choked. All I could do was sit dumbly with tears running down my face. But she was patient and finally I poured out my woeful tale.

"Golden glass is it!" she said thoughtfully, staring off into space. then she took hold of my shoulders. "Ellie, is it really gold-colored glass?"

I nodded and she hugged me.

"Do you suppose you could stay for supper tonight?" She had a mysterious air that made my hopes zoom.

"Oh, yes," I said.

So she telephoned, and mama said it would be all right. "While I set the table, Ellie, you run home and get the broken bowl."

We lived only a few houses from her. When I burst into our room, there sat Virginia, weeping and holding pieces of the broken bowl in her hands. I felt awful.

"Oh, Ellie, Ellie, how could you!" she sobbed.

"I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't." My eyes started to blur so I rubbed them on my coat sleeve. Taking the pieces from her i put them in the box. "Don't feel bad. I can fix it."

"You can never, never fix it. It is broken in too many pieces." She burst into a fresh torrent of weeping.

"Oh, yes I can. Sister Simpson is going to help me." I hurried out with the box before she could say more.

Eating with Sister Simpson was an event. Her brocaded lunch cloth was snowy white. She put a bowl of fresh holly and got out her green drinking glasses, especially for me. From her tiny toaster oven she served hot rolls with a fluffly cheese omlet and jelly.

After the last dish was dried and put away, she opened the shoe box and picked up a piece of glass. "Just what we need. Ellie, we can make something special for your mother from this glass, but you will have to come every day until Christmas. Can you do that?"

"You mean we can't fix the bowl?" I asked in disappointment.

"No, dear, but we can fix something your mother will love." She went into another room and brought out a cloth-covered tray. "Lift the cloth, Ellie."

I was unprepared for what met my eyes. "Oooh!" I exclaimed. If, in the glass flower bowl I saw yellow sapphires, I now saw all of the other precious gems—diamonds, emeralds, blue sapphires, and rubies.

"This is a gift I'm making for my daughter, but I need one more color to finish it."

"You need gold-colored glass?"

"Yes. Mary Lou and I have been making our gifts together, and we were stalled for a particular color of glass. we've loked in every junk shop and dump and were about to give up. Ellie, if I help you with your gift, will you trade us a piece of your flower bowl? We have ltos of colors to give you in return."

I sat right down and laughed. who ever heard of anyone, especially grownups, swapping chunks of broken dishes!

"Sister Simpson, if I can make a gift like yours, I'll be as happy as a mouse in a wheat bin," I said.

The she laughed. "You can, Ellie, I promise. I'll teach you."

I was so excited that I skipped all the way home.

Virginia was a problem, for she asked too many questions. Finally I said, "Everything will be all right. Just you wait and see."

My helping Mrs. Simpson was all right with mama, but Virginia never stopped prying me with questions.

"Ellie, you are not really fixing the bowl together, are you?" she asked one night.

"No," I confessed as I tumbled into bed.

"Will what you're doing look nice on the other table?"

"Of course," I snapped, then stopped dead still. It wouldn't go on a table at all! I hadn't thought of that. I pretended to sleep, but I was worried. Virginia would be disappointed. Oh, well, I finally thought, Mama will probably put a bowl of apples on the other table anyway, and I dozed off.

The day before Christmas the tree was trimmed and the house smelled of evergreens and spices. Mama stood surveying the livling room. Her brows were drawn in deep study. Finally she pointed.

"That table," she said "has got to go. having two alike in this room is ridiculous."

"I've a perfect place for it in Jimmy's room," Daddy said, and hustled it away before she changed her mind.

Virginia looked like she was having a heart attack and I wanted to shought hallelujah!

Daddy came back. "Now, my dear—I suppose you want something else moved into that vacant spot."

With a twinkle, Mama said, "No, my dear, I like it the way it is."

Dusk was gathered and colored lights began blinking from the houses down the street.

"Put your coat on, Ellie, and take this package to Sister Simpson," Mama said.

Now was the time for me to spirit my own package home. The first pale stars were appearing overhead. A little breeze rustled the crisp brown leaves that still clung to the apple tree by the gate. From the loud speakers at the market place came the strains of "Little Town of Bethlehem." The air was soft and warm. Daddy had said we would have a warm Christmas.

Sister Simpson was expecting me. I put the package from Mama under her tree and she handed me my treasure, beautifully wrapped. Breathlessly I held it, then I looked up at her. All at once she looked like a Christmas angel to me. I set my package down and threw my arms around her. She bent and kissed me. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, but didn't know how. I only said, "You will have a good Christmas, won't you," and her laughter was merry as a silver bell.

"That I will, Ellie. My children are coming home tonight."

Now I was really happy, for she wouldn't be alone. I thanked her and skipped home.

When I opened the door, the family had already gathered around the fireplace. There wasn't a chance to sneak my gift behind the tree, so I gaily called, "Ho, ho, ho. Here comes Santa Claus. Everybody shut your eyes." And everyone did, except Virginia. I'm sure she peeked when I hid my package behind the tree.

Christmas morning, Mama opened Virginia's package first. The flower bowl looked more exquisite than I had remembered it, and for a moment a feeling of sadness came over me, remembering the one I had broken. In one glance, Virginia and I looked where the other table and bowl were meant to be. In their place sat Daddy, lounging in the new easy chair Santa had brought him.

Mama kissed Virginia and said, "This is beautiful," then picked up my package. Fingering the tag she read, "Merry Christmas to Mama from Ellie." Then she opened it. "Oooh, Ellie, how did you do it?" Her eyes were like stars.

"Sister Simpson helped me," I said.

She got up and put the sparkling flower bowl on the table and leaned the picture I had given her against the wall behind it. The picture repeated the color of the flower bowl, in long graceful sprays of goldenrod, made of cracked glass, accentuated by daisies and babies'-breath in apricot and blue glass. The leaves were a mossy green.

"How did you ever find glass for the goldenrods that so perfectly matched Virginia's flower bowl?" Mama asked.

I was momentarily chagrined and then my bursting pride took over. "It was a happy accident," I said.