Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Farewell, old friend

November 14, 2013

In the right conditions, a puddle of water on a granite counter becomes an ice rink, and the coffee mug becomes a skater. I turned my back and the mug started skating, and before I could catch it my mug crashed into eight pieces on the kitchen floor.

That was my favorite mug, the one I looked for every morning on the top rack of the dishwasher. If I’d neglected to hit the “wash” button the night before, my mug would have a ring of coffee in it, and I’d wash it by hand. That mug was part of my morning ritual, as important as the coffee and the hazelnut creamer.

I found it years ago at a craft fair. It was made of hand-thrown clay and glazed a warm brownish gray. The shape was curvy with a small waist, and it had a feature I’d never seen on any other mug: a little concave disk atop the handle, the perfect place to rest my thumb.

Over the years the cup had gotten banged around, living through two inferior dishwashers including one that, when the door was closed and locked, would jostle the cups, upending them and leaving them chipped and full of gritty water. The mug has had numerous tours of my house and my car, going with me as I walked upstairs to toss in a load of laundry and riding along as I ran the kids up to school on cold mornings when they missed the bus. Most every day the mug would end up on my desk, half-full of cold coffee.

It wasn’t just the shape that I loved. The mug knew how to behave in a microwave, allowing the coffee or tea to warm up while keeping its own body cool. Lesser mugs emerge from the microwave so hot you can’t touch them.

Coffee tasted better in that mug. It served me well through my Keurig stage, when the easy access to fresh coffee left me wired and goofy by the end of the day and left the trash can full of those little plastic cups. When the Keurig finally croaked, I bought a Mr. Coffee: the environment’s better off without all the plastic waste, and I’m more relaxed.

It was a sickening crash that killed the mug. I’d just taken the mug from the dishwasher, and was waiting for the coffee to finish dripping into the pot. I turned my back for one second. How fast these things happen.

While tossing the sad pieces into the trash, I thought about a scene from J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” the one where Holden Caulfield is headed home to see his little sister Phoebe. He has just bought her favorite 45 record – a song called “Little Shirley Beans” – and he can’t wait to give it to her. But he drops it and it shatters, and Holden is shattered.

The broken record is said to symbolize Holden’s sadness that Phoebe will have to grow up, and that life changes people. The broken record stands for lost youth.

My broken mug isn’t so profound – it’s just a great big bummer.

I went online to find another, Googling “handmade mug with thumb rest.” Maybe something will show up on Etsy. Maybe I should go back to that same craft fair to buy another one. Maybe I should buy a pottery wheel and kiln so I can make my own.

Or maybe I should cut back on the caffeine. This was, after all, 600 words about a broken mug. Yes, there are worse problems. But right now I’m wondering where I’ll rest my thumb.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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