Thursday, July 9, 2015

Humble Things

While canning recently I reached for a spoon to scrape out the pot. It was just an ordinary serving spoon, but it occurred to me that this particular spoon had been with me since I was 17 years old and a new bride. It was part of a stainless service for 12, a wedding gift. The rest of the set has long since undergone that diaspora that most flatware seems to suffer, but this one spoon is still in my kitchen drawer. It traveled to a pre-World War II apartment with me, to my first little log cabin house on the banks of the Occoquan River in Virginia, to an apartment on the banks of another river, the Ohio this time, and finally here to the house I built with my first husband.

It’s just a spoon, I know. But it symbolizes the passages of my life from a teenager to young mother, to country woman and grandmother. It has served countless dishes of applesauce, green beans, potatoes, ice cream and who knows what else. It has jostled in the drawer with the paprika orange and avocado green utensils of the 70’s, the Teflon spatulas and wooden spoons of the 80’s and finally with the vintage kitchen tools I now favor. Somehow I overlooked this one spoon when I got rid of the stainless in favor of the silverplate flatware and serving spoons I inherited from my mother. It nestled in the back of the drawer, forgotten until now.

That got me to thinking about other humble things have been with me over the years.  It seems that the majority of these “lifers” reside in my kitchen. The large and bulbous orange-red
Ransburg cookie jar with the chipping painted flowers and cracked-and glued together cookie jar, for example. I bought it from the estate of my ex-husband’s great aunt, a woman who loved to cook and lived on her own, keeping a boarder, until she passed away and 97. I smile when I look at that jar, remembering Aunt Eva’s feisty temperament, her tales of making bathtub gin during the depression and of run-ins with the DC-area Mafia because of that lucrative side business. The lid was broken by my sons who as little boys managed to climb on top of the refrigerator in search of cookies.

A wood-covered cookbook called Recipes from Old NewEngland was another wedding gift, given to me by a lady whose children I had babysat for. Jan Lawless, her name was, a quiet, kind lady who might be astonished to know that her gift taught me to make biscuits, pie crust and coup beans. I still pull it out in winter months to refresh my pie-crust-making memory after a summer of little baking. My father gave me the 10-inch cast iron skillet I use almost daily; it is not a name brand or a sought-after antique, just a serviceable, sturdy and versatile pan that cooks eggs dependably and makes the best cornbread crust.


I am sure there are many more of these humble things lurking in my cabinets and resting on my shelves. They hold the story of my life, in a way, or at least my adventures in cooking as I progressed from opening cans to canning, from buying bread to baking it and from timid to confident cook. Look around your kitchen. My bet is you have your own history bearers, waiting for you to look at them and remember the stories and the people connected with their presence in your life. Things are after all only things, but they are the key to unlocking and savoring the many memories of our life’s journey.

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

3 comments:

Mac n' Janet said...

The story of your silverware could have been my story, my silverware drawer has seen all the changes yours has.

Rowan said...

I still have just a few things that came as wedding presents or were bought early in my married life. The oldest is a set of fish knives and forks that were part of conferencing cutlery given as a wedding present to my parents. The rest of it is gone but mum still had these in a drawer when I cleared her house, I remember the whole canteen being in the sideboard when I was a child.

annie said...

I still have my grandmother's aqua blue colander. My mom gladly fobbed it off on me when I married so many years ago. It is a hideous weird blue, but the spaghetti I strained through it the other night was scrumptious. Things like this often outlast the women who use them.

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