Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Harvest Basket

I remember exactly the day this basket came into my life.

I was at a farm auction with my first husband. We'd been living in West Virginia about two years and had finally moved out to our land, and into the house we'd built that was nowhere near finished. Life was exciting, challenging, and most of the time I felt like I'd won the lottery even though we had no electricity, the running water was intermittent and the toilet was at the end of a path up the hill.

I'd been raised in town. When I was very young we lived in the pine woods of Centreville, Virginia, just a random assortment of owner-built small houses in a place where no one wanted to live because the soil didn't perc and there was no city water so everyone had outhouses. When I was five we moved to Manassas, to a large foursquare built around 1914 in a quiet neighborhood that became anything but after our family of six-and eventually 13--children moved in.

We had a vegetable garden and fruit trees, and Mom had her herbs and flowers and did a good bit of canning, but nothing really prepared me for life on this rugged land in West Virginia. Even my first home after I married, didn't do that. It was outside of Manassas on an acre of land and in the country where we could have chickens (I got my first flock when I was 19) and raise a garden didn't prepare me for the life I thought I wanted, a self-sufficient homestead far away from anywhere, and in the mountains.

It was a big learning curve when we moved in--a very big one. But we learned fast and it was all an adventure to me then. Being young makes a person feel they can do anything, doesn't it? Our first winter was a rough one for sure, one of the worst on record in this area, with temperatures down to -30F for weeks. We managed, and it was all pretty exciting, even if rough and tumble to make it through.

Spring came, and with it came the farm auctions. I remember this one in particular because I coveted almost every single thing they were selling--the fenceposts, the pile of oak boards, the wagons and trailers and plows and high-wheel cultivators and kitchenware and quilts and on and on. I knew that this was a sale of a bygone lifestyle, really, things necessary for the very life I wanted to live.

We still had some money from the sale of our house in Virginia at this point, and I bought a lot of stuff. My husband squirmed every time my hand went up in the air. We took home two truckloads plus one of the small trailers from the sale, also loaded full.

Today I still have several things from that sale. The apple butter kettle, the trailer, some old tools, a yellow Lipton's teapot. The fenceposts built our first goat fence and the lumber built the first chicken house and woodshed. I still have some of the crocks and probably a lot of the hundreds of canning jars too.

And I still have this old basket, worn and broken but still here because I refuse to part with it. I used it almost daily for a good while, repaired the rim with some oak splits I'd made myself in a basket-making class, and preserved its finish with orange shellack a time or two. I quit taking it to the garden when the bottom got weak and used to to store potatoes and onions in the kitchen, then later for magazines in the living room. Finally it became too fragile to use, and I hung it from the rafters in the kitchen, where it's been for at least the last 25 years.

Today I looked up and saw that the handle had pulled loose from the rim. It is too weak even to hang by its handle any more. So I took it down and carefully maneuvered the handle back into place.

I'll give it a good washing, and then it will go to rest on top of a cabinet where there is no strain on that handle hand-carved to fit beneath the rim so many years ago by some unknown hand at that farm on the top of Chestnut Ridge.

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


Michelle said...

A fitting retirement for this basket.

Brighid said...

What a wonderful story of a life and a basket, thanks for sharing.

Susan Anderson said...

I have keepsakes like that from my early years. I wouldn't want to part with them, either!

I have a young friend who has moved from the city to a farm. She has goats and horses and chickens and pigs and the works. She has also started cooking only from the land, sprouts all her own wheat, etc. etc. I admire her so much, and her children are having a wonderful adventure. At first it was hard, but they really seem to be getting the hang of it.

A good life for them.


Gretel said...

OH yes, an old friend deserves an honourable retirement. I used to have dreams about being self sufficient when I was younger and had that thing called energy, but it was never possible, and now I am older and fatter, and am quite happy to buy from the market!

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