I happened to catch a rerun of Tupperware! (the transcript of which is linked below) on PBS’s The American Experience and, wow, the memories that came back. Of all of the things to fill me with nostalgia, it was the memory of attending mom’s Tupperware™ parties when I was a kid.
No, I didn’t grow up in the 1950s, at least not literally. It was more of a virtual 50s in a small town that was ever-so uncomfortable with the 60s and its place in the decade — a time warp of sorts — but that explanation will have to wait for another time. For now, I’ll just say that it was the early 70s… not the 50s. Without doing some research (and I just might at some point), I can’t say how popular Tupperware was in the early- to mid-70s in the rest of the country. I only know that the molded, burpable polyethylene slag, in the pastel rainbow colors, and the parties to sell them had found a small, if belated and short-lived, niche in town.
I know now that Tupperware™ in the 1970s was not the “movement” it had been in the 1950s, but the product and the company still had followers — it still does today. But, we still had a “Tupperware Lady” in town, and she was a high-school friend of my mom’s. In the spirit of helping out a friend as well as having a reason to get together (most of the group had small children by then), each friend in the group hosted a Tupperware™ party.
I’m not quite sure how many parties my mother hosted for her friend — probably three or four over the period of a couple of years — but they stand out in my mind as some of the best things ever. I laugh now thinking about what a big deal it was for me to be allowed to attend mom’s Tupperware™ parties, even if not for the whole thing since it would already be past my bed time when the parties started. But, for me, it was an event. It was a treat to stay up late, to see everyone, to eat finger foods and party snacks — served in Tupperware™, of course! — and to get to play the games and win small pieces of Tupperware™. It sounds sort of ridiculous today, but what kid doesn’t like miniature things, especially miniature versions of things that their parents use? To be able to win a tiny, pale yellow bowl (that could hold four aspirin, maybe) with a working burpable lid, well, that was just too cool. Of course, I didn’t win the tiny bowl. I don’t recall who did. But, I did win … drumroll, please … a Tupperware™ citrus peeler. It was awesome. I couldn’t wait to peel some oranges! Someone else would have to eat them, but darn it, I was going to peel them. Ah, youth. The Tuppertoys my brother and I had — the Pop-a-Lot and the elephant with rearrangeable body parts — could not hold a candle to my peeler.
When I think about the Tupperware™ parties from a distance, in a more matter-of-fact way, it all seems a little goofy. After all, I was a first- and/or second-grade kid in a hand-me-down Lanz robe (hey, if you’re going to stay up late, you have to be in your PJs and ready for bed), sitting with a bunch of twenty-something ladies, eating Nabisco™ Sociables and port-wine cheese, and playing guessing games for small bits of colored (albeit usable) plastic. But, what these memories and the Tupperware™ parties themselves symbolise for me is my mom letting me stay up late to be part of her world, to spend time with a whole group of her friends, to play their games with them: it was a small sign that I was becoming a big kid in her eyes, even if I didn’t know it then.
Now, though, I remember that or, rather, I feel it. When I open the old-school Tupperware™ container I keep my coffee in (yep, pastel with the little tab and burping lid) or catch a glimpse of the citrus peeler my mom still has in a drawer, I feel it. I feel a little bit of pride that I couldn’t identify as a kid, the happiness I felt being allowed not only to help get ready for the adults to arrive but then also to be able to hang out with them for a while. And, as an added bonus that I was unable to articulate until years later, these Tupperware™ parties were also some of the first times I had enough of a glimpse into the after-kid (i.e. bed time) world of adults to see that they weren’t serious all the time, that they could be responsible and grown-up but still laugh, be silly and play stupid games. And… they too could do all of these things while buying and trying to win pastel colored pieces of plastic with burping lids.