Old Things

glass liquor bottle 1890sI love old things. One of them you see here, a bottle from the 1890s or before, meant as I am guessing, for spirits of some kind. You can’t really tell with the label mostly effaced.

I came upon this and the item below while going through a nasty drawer full of junk under our kitchen’s utility sink. It was in the 1980s that these two items first came to our notice from their sleeping-place deep down in the earth . It happened when we excavated a portion of the yard to expand our antiquated kitchen.

I don’t know what the builder was thinking when he laid out the original room when the house was new in the 1890s. Even by that era’s standards, it seems a truly terrible space to for the preparation of food. I say this because in all the 90 years before we came, this kitchen had remained the same. Sure, the stove had been swapped out and the old stove still reposes, a slumbering whale in our basement. The refrigerators got swapped out too, from the original icebox to electrified coolers, like the 1920s-era version that also slumbers below stairs.

But the basic layout?  Unchanged in all that time by which I mean to say that when we got here, there were no cupboards above sink or stove or fridge. If you wanted a cupboard you had to walk in to the next room, a room grandly called, in those days, ‘the butler’s pantry’. I called it that myself  – I had grown up in a house with room we called the l pantry – until I realized my small children thought I was talking about a pantry without a butt. (It must have been my Boston accent.)

Additionally, there were no surfaces on which to set things in this kitchen we inherited in the 1980s. Not a countertop in the place. If you wanted a surface, you had to walk into another room called the larder, where there were wooden shelves, wooden drawers and a lone square of marble for rolling your pie dough on. If as the cook, you needed to pare the potatoes you stood at the sink. When you needed to whip the potatoes, you sat at the wooden table in the room’s center and worked with the bowl in your lap.

And when our family of four sat at that table, still situated in the room’s center, we were all squeezed in so tight that someone had to vacate his seat and push in his chair in order to open the fridge for a forgotten item, and another person had to do the same so someone could check the oven to see if the brownies were done.

We couldn’t wait for that renovation. It brought us not only a larger more airy space in which to prepare and serve meals to friends and family, but it also delivered to us this last old item: a railroad spike from… who knows when, as Its irregular shape argues for a vintage older still than the 1890s. Today I am thinking hmmmm: the old Massachusetts town of Concord lies only a few hills and laps distant from here.  Maybe this is the kind of spike driven in to the earth when they first laid that Boston-to-Fitchburg run in the 1840s, and the iron monster  so shattered young Henry Thoreaus’s peace of mind over there in his cabin on the banks of Walden Pond. Anyway, here is ‘our’ spike, seen against one of my cookbooks for scale.

IMG_5179

The past is all around us, no doubt about that! Now if I could just talk to Thoreau, or Emerson, or Walt Whitman, or my girl Emily D. over the road there in Amherst. Where do they go, the dead, the silent dead?

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9 thoughts on “Old Things

  1. “a lone square of marble for rolling your pie dough on” That would be a good use for it, but I suspect it was primarily intended for the storage of butter. By the way, we have a padlock inscribed “Fitchburg RR” that somehow made its way to Cape Cod and was used by the previous owner’s father (the last Civil War veteran in Orleans) to lock up the chicken coop.

    1. Love the story of the padlock! and how odd it is that I was thinking of you as I wrote this piece! But how would a slab of marble act as a storage site for butter? It came to me afterward that maybe it was more for the making of fudge. I so wish I had a picture of that pantry.

      1. Marble is good for rolling pie dough because it remains cooler than room temperature and therefore inhibits the melting of the layers of fat that create the flakes. (How marble does that is beyond my expertise.) The same propensity would make it a good place to lay butter in a larder. I seem to recall hearing that my maternal grandmother, born ca 1875, would sometimes sneak into the larder and cut herself a piece of the butter reposing there, which she would consume like cheese.

  2. You baited me. They’re never dead or silent. They live on in all their writings, in all the people they inspire, and in those still being inspired and on and on. Just as you inspire through your writings. We love you.

    1. Ah thanks for that ! But so do they really? I’m not hallucinating when I hear my mother and aunt’s voices so clear and distinct it’s as if they’re in the next room?

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