A runcible what?

By Kat Bergeron

Special to the Sun Herald

Cotton Bergeron’s ‘runcible spoon,’ again in pieces after more than a half-century of generational family use, sits atop a modern copy of Edward Lear’s illustration in his 1871 poem, ‘Owl and Pussy Cat.’ The word ‘runcible’ was his creation.
Cotton Bergeron’s ‘runcible spoon,’ again in pieces after more than a half-century of generational family use, sits atop a modern copy of Edward Lear’s illustration in his 1871 poem, ‘Owl and Pussy Cat.’ The word ‘runcible’ was his creation. Photo Illustration by Kat Bergeron

Oh, don’t be so runcible!

Huh? I have no idea what that means, and neither would anyone else. Runcible is a powerful descriptive word, one that rolls off our tongues with ease, like a great word should.

But it means nothing.

Runcible is a nonsense word, first intended as an adjective and invented by Edward Lear, English artist and author who several times in the late 19th century used it in his writings. The most notable was his 1871 poem, “Owl and the Pussycat,” still recited today.

They dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon.

Lear is noted for nonsensical verse memorable for the way it sounds aloud. I associate “runcible” with my Mom, who like her mother, passed along nursery rhymes and other childhood dittys.

My association, however, is not with the recital of “Owl and Pussy Cat,” but with a real kitchen utensil she affectionately called her runcible spoon. This large, red handled, slotted spoon produced the most wonderful cakes and cookies imaginable. It stirred up sauces and dinner, but Mom’s runcible spoon’s chief role was for baking. It was always hand washed, never relegated to the dishwasher.

The spoon went through at least one metamorphosis, and like a butterfly chrysalis, it’s ready for new life. The first change came in the late 1960s when the red handle, probably made of Bakelite, broke. A family friend carved a wooden handle, and Mom’s runcible spoon was back in action for more decades.

As my sisters and I divvied up prized family possessions after Mom’s death, I was the lucky spoon holder. For reasons unfathomable, the Katrina mermaids did not claim the spoon as they did so much else during the 2005 hurricane. Oh, the joy of being able to use it again.

It didn’t last long. Like a copycat video of my mother before me, I was stirring a batter when the now worn-down wooden handle broke into pieces. I tucked the metal and wood parts into a bag, hoping to one day get it fixed. Forgotten weeks turned into years.

The spoon stirred its way back into memory this spring after reading an e-mail from Cissy Jordan, actually an essay she’d written for friends about her family spoon.

Cissy is a Mississippi Coast native whose interesting life includes such titles as journalist, press secretary, consultant, restaurant owner/manager, professional fundraiser. She’s a contemplative sort with whom I enjoy corresponding.

Her essay, in part, reads:

“...when I am cooking something I hope will be extra special I reach for the bowl-shaped, large spoon among the collection of wooden spoons that rest in a container near by the sink. This is Grandma’s spoon, rescued among items of her household after she was gone and a recognizable favorite of hers.

“As a child that large spoon was as ever-present in my life as most any other object. She was a great cook, not just a good cook and having come to this country in around 1912 I think that spoon was among her first acquisitions as a homemaker. Every time I reach for this spoon my mind goes back to a story my Mother read from Collier’s Magazine that she told me about one day.

“The story centered around a woman’s thoughts of what was truly the most valuable item in her house. She was asking herself if there was a fire what should she attempt to salvage. After going through a list of things and deciding each of her selections were just ‘things’ and could easily be replaced she hit upon the wooden spoon in her kitchen as it held so many memories of her past life and truly was therefore more valuable than all the other material objects in her house,’” Mother said.

“That story stuck with me ... My small but very valuable collection of wooden spoons hold many memories for me now that I have lost first, my Grandmother and then my Mother .... I can see them stirring pots of food beyond delicious ... beyond delightful and into that real of magical food.”

Would that we all be lucky enough to possess one object, be it a spoon, pocketknife, rocking chair, or whatever, whose worth far exceeds monetary value. My runcible spoon will soon be in use again.

Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.