Friday, May 29, 2015

Inspiration, Or,Why I Like Old Stuff

 I was working on a flatwall cabinet today, getting it ready to sell. I've owned this one for about 10 years; it always had issues but I didn't care. I just used it was it was. Now I've replaced it with the china cabinet and we want to sell it, so Larry repaired the main problems and I decided to give the inside a painted-years-ago look but using a wash on it.

Inside the cabinet were a few thumbtacks and I remembered that when I bought it, there had been wallpaper lining the inside, held in place with those thumbtacks. I'd just pulled out the paper and didn't get all of the tacks apparently. As I painted I got to thinking about the woman who had put that paper in there, and those thoughts led to this story. Which is why I like old-stuff--there is always a story with it, either real or one I can create in my imagination. So here is the story of Ella and her cupboard.

Sweat ran down the back of her neck as Ella stretched on tiptoes to spread flour paste inside the cupboard. It wasn’t yet full daylight, but she had grabbed a few minutes before starting breakfast to start putting paper on the rough wood shelves. Jim would be down any minute so she worked quickly, listening for his foot on the stairs that led up to their bedroom. She grabbed the roll of wallpaper and cut a strip, pushing it carefully into place.

August was a month of hard work on the farm. The threshers would be coming soon with their big machine to harvest the wheat. The corn was ripening and the hay would soon be ready for another cutting. Tomatoes, beans, corn, squash and cucumbers filled her days with steamy heat in the kitchen as she put up jar after jar of colorful produce for the coming winter. The cabinet was not a necessary chore and she knew it, but she yearned for a pretty place to put the dishes left to her by her grandmother, and now she had it. All it needed was a little pretty paper to brighten up the dark interior.

A door closed upstairs and Ella flew to the stove. She was pouring boiling water over coffee grounds as Jim stomped downstairs. Ella pulled bacon, biscuits, and gravy from the warming oven, put the bowls on the table and began cracking eggs into a heating cast iron skillet.

“Morning, Sunshine.” Jim gave her a quick peck on the cheek and grabbed a mug. The aroma of strong coffee filled the room. He sighed and took a long sip as Ella lifted her cup and saucer from a shelf and poured her tea from a china teapot. She had never acquired a taste for the bitterness of coffee, preferring tea with milk and sugar to start her day.

“The threshers are over at Nelson’s this morning,” Jim said. “I’m going over to give them a hand after we get our chores done. They’ll be here to help us later when the machine comes to our place. Do you want to go along and visit with Mary?”

Ella shook her head. “I’d like to but I really can’t. I have two bushels of tomatoes in the cellar waiting on me this morning, and I really want to finish this cupboard today and get it put in place.” She glanced at the cupboard. The wallpaper really was going to look good.

Jim laughed. “You and that cabinet. I can’t see the use of it, really I can’t. You would have been better off to keep those blackberries for yourself. Why, you could have made us a dozen pies with those buckets of berries!” He winked at her.

“You think only of your stomach, Mister. I know you think its woman’s foolishness but I have wanted a place to put Grandma’s china for ever so long. What good is it to keep it stored away in crates in the attic?”

“What good is china anyway, Honey? These old crock plates are good enough for me.” Jim thunked his fork on the heavy brown plate in front of him. ‘But don’t overdo it today. The threshers will be here this week, and you’ll have a lot of cooking to do. Those fellas eat a powerful lot of food, you know. Will you be up to it, in your condition?” He glanced at her softly rounded belly.

“I’ll be ready. The ladies from church are coming over to help, and they’ll be bringing plenty of food with them, thank goodness. Oh, you can take these two peach pies over to Mary today when you go. She’ll be pleased to get them, I know.”

Jim finished eating and pushed back from the table. Ella watched him walk to the barn and listened to him calling to the horses.  It was going to be a hot day, that was certain. Heat shimmered on the dusty road already. She went back inside to clear away the dishes. A shout called her to the porch and she carried the pies out to Jim and waved goodbye as the wagon jounced up the road and out of sight.

While dishwater heated on the wood cookstove she worked on papering the inside of her new cupboard. Well, not new, she thought, but new to me. I wonder how long it’s been around, and where Mr. Jonesy got it? He’d been a bachelor all his life, so perhaps it had belonged to his mother. He had seen her walking home with her buckets of berries last week and had offered to trade the cupboard for the berries.

“I don’t need the thing, I sure don’t. It’s just in my way. I remember how you admired it once, so I would be glad to swap you for those fine berries.”

Ella didn’t hesitate. “Deal!” she said, laughing. Mr. Jonesy brought the cupboard over that evening, staying for supper and some cobbler out on the cool porch afterwards. Jim was puzzled but he said after all, they were her berries and if she wanted to trade her hard work for some old cabinet, who was he to argue?


Now Ella sat on the porch in her rocker, hands folded neatly in her lap. All around her people bustled in and out, talking in quiet voices, looking at the furniture, dishes, tools and farm equipment spread out on the lawn for the auction to be held that day. The old cupboard was under the maple tree, its well worn finish dull in the harsh light of day. Ella remembered how pretty it had been filled with white china, and how proud she had been of this showpiece in her kitchen.

Over the years the china had been broken, piece by piece, and as the decades passed the delicate English pieces were replaced, first with pink and green Depression glass, later with Homer Laughlin’s cheaper lines of dinnerware, and finally with plastic Melamine. Thin china cups gave way to Fire-King mugs. Children, five of them, were born, grew up and eventually moved on to homes of their own. The flour paste had dried out over the years and Ella had used thumbtacks to hold the paper in place. Now the faded design was barely discernible and the paper hung loose here and there. She hadn’t had the energy or the desire to fix it after Jim got sick.  After he died she tried to keep the farm going but it was too much for her and she had finally agreed that it was time to sell out and move in with her oldest son and his family.

She sighed. It was going to take some getting used to, being with other people and in another woman’s home. Hardest of all was letting go of the things she had loved all these years, especially that cupboard. Her son had offered to bring it over to his place when she moved but Ella knew there was no place for it, and truth to be told it did look pretty bad. It hadn’t fared any better than she had, Ella thought. The years had worn them both down, but they were good years and she had been blessed. She had to remember that. At least she had family willing to take her in, instead of whisking her off to some nursing home.

A young woman had wondered over to the old cupboard. Ella watched as the woman pulled open the doors and lifted the peeling paper.

“Cathy, are you seriously looking at that?” A man, looking to be in his late twenties, sauntered over and put his arm around the young woman.  She looked up at him and smiled.

“Oh yeah! Look at this thing! See how someone whittled a piece to keep the doors closed? And some lady put this paper in here to make it pretty, but it’s in bad shape. She tried to keep it in place with thumbtacks when it came loose. It’s rough for sure, but I can fix it up, David, I know I can.”

The man shrugged. “Suit yourself. Are you going to bid on it? I can’t see what we need it for but if you want it go ahead.”

“I want it. You wait til you see how pretty it will be with my grandmother’s china in it.”

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

The First Fourth Fibbin' Contest is Coming Soon!

Get your tall tales, your lies and your BIG stories ready! Ripley, West Virginia, home of the biggest small-town 4th of July Celebration in the US is having a liars contest!

And there will be prizes too: $100 first place, $75 for 2nd, $50 for 3rd, and $25 for the Youth winner. So your young'uns can enter too.

This is guaranteed fun for the whole family. I'll be there as one of the judges, and might tell a tale before the contest starts. I am so looking forward to this!

I hope you can join us. Here are the rules and information about the contest:

‘Come all ye tall tale tellers, liars, prevaricators and stretchers of the truth’
7 p.m. Friday, July 3, 2015 Historic Alpine Theatre, 210 W. Main Street, Ripley, WV

 1st Fourth Fibbin’ Contest
The Appalachian tradition of storytelling will be featured during this new event for the Ripley Fourth of July festivities, “The USA’s Largest Small Town Independence Day Celebration.”

Pre-Registration – email:, Ripley Convention & Visitors Bureau, 115 N. Church Street Suite 4, Ripley, WV 25271. Call 304-514-2609.

Event Day Registration – 6:00-6:45 p.m., July 3, 2015, Alpine Theatre

Admission: Free

Awards:  $100 1st Place; $75 2nd Place; $50 3rd Place; $25 Youth Award (17 & under)

  1. The event is open to everyone.
  2. “Fibs” should be short, family-friendly stories lasting 3-5 minutes.
  3. All contestants must register.
  4. The order of telling shall be determined by drawing numbers.
  5. No written materials or props may be used.
  6. Judging will be conducted by a panel of 3 on the following categories: A. Technique (delivery, confidence and general stagecraft); B. Story Development (good use of the allotted time); C. Originality (new material or fresh handling of a familiar yarn); D. Effectiveness (in the judge’s opinion, taking audience response into consideration)
  7. Judges will score the four categories on a scale of 1-5 for a maximum of 20 points. Final scores will not be given to contestants.
  8. Judges will confer at the end of the competition to determine the awards. There will be no ties. Their decision will be final.
  9. Fibs may be videotaped and displayed by the Ripley CVB.To process monetary awards quickly, winners must complete a standard W-9 form, invoice form and supply the Ripley CVB with Social Security numbers. Youth winners must have their own Social Security numbers and be accompanied by a parent when completing the forms.
  10. Winners will receive award checks in the mail within four weeks of the event.

A Few Furniture Finds, and Some Odds and Ends

Here's a funny story. We were at a local flea market over the holiday weekend, and this old Hoosier cabinet base was sitting outside. I asked about it, and finally found a man who said the woman who brought it in left it there and said he could have it if he wanted it. He didn't...but he told me I could have it.

As you can see, it's pretty rough. The back and bottom are gone, the paint is disgusting. We may try to fix it up, or we may use it just for parts. It does have the metal bread drawer and the metal racks which are usually missing in these things, and it has the original Bakelite handles and a porcelain top. All good things to have an hand if we decide this is too gar gone to repair.

This load we got from a local picker: two rolling kitchen carts, a very old drop leaf table that needs a little repair, a vanity bench,weird metal stool or table that Larry will use for a garden bench (handy with that handle on top), and a nice old brass pole lamp.

This stool also came from the picker, and is already at its new home, a neighbor's house. Her house burned and her new house has cabinets up so high she can't reach them, so this Cosco stool was perfect for her. The red and white cast iron chairs came from another picker, and so far they're living on my porch.

I have never seen a tall old metal kitchen cabinet like this one. Lots of rust inside! I started sanding it after the photo in preparation for painting.

Not all of our finds were furniture. The top lamp shade was given to me free at a flea market. It's lovely crewel embroidery work. The suitcase is actually a set of two in pristine condition--the smaller one is inside the one in the photo.

 It works! Dorrmeyer stand mixer with about 10 speeds, I think.

Here's a unique feature on this mixer: it tilts to one side. How cool is that. Easy to add ingredients or scrape down your bowl.

We stopped at a yard sale and found these neat little end tables with drop leaves. There was a matching coffee table but it was so low that I did not think we could sell it. Apparently new couches are higher, more overstuffed, etc and the older end tables are too short. So I am steering away from them, since the one I do have in my booth has been sitting for months with no interest.

And is this yet another Hoosier? Why yes it is! So we now have the one we found in the trash, the base I showed about, another base we've had a while, a Hoosier in rough condition we bought last month, and now this one. It's raining Hoosiers, I swear. This one has no sifter, but look at those glass doors!

It also is missing a drawer--it had the drawer face, thank goodness, but the rest was gone. So that's a Larry project. Other than that it only needs a good cleaning. The price was too good to pass it up.

Chairs, chairs, and chairs. Four oak chairs will go with a round oak table I've had for a while, waiting to find the right chairs.These are in excellent condition, just need the seats re-covered.

This little chair was only 50 cents! And it already has a new home and a new look at one of my neighbors' homes. She painted it teal and put a light patterned cover on the seat, and it is with the set she put together of mis-matched chairs and a small round table. It looks awesome. The old grinder in the photo was a yard sale find, and the yellow and chrome diner chairs were from a local flea market.They will go with a yellow cracked-ice formica and chrome table we currently have in our Marietta booth.

And loaded up and ready to be put in the storage building. I think we made out pretty well over the weekend, and have enough stock to last us for a long, long time when we add this lot to what we already have. So now I'm trying not to look at ads for yard sales. Wish me luck with that!

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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