Connected to Our Past

I like to collect antique items that were once used in the day-to-day running of a household. They are not particularly valuable, but to me they are interesting and filled with meaning. The worn and chipped items remind me of the art and industry that was once involved in keeping a home.

I have a wooden darning egg. They were placed in the foot of a sock to help keep it open while the holes were mended. I don’t have the first clue how to darn a sock, and would never try. I just go to WalMart and buy a new pair. But when I look at it I wonder who the mother was that once used the darning egg to mend her family’s socks. I picture her rocking by a fire on a winter night, mending basket at her feet, fixing the little sock of a small boy. I have a few old irons, the kind that have to be heated on the top of a cast iron stove. They are so heavy. I imagine a women standing over an ironing board, next to a hot stove on a warm summer day. Her hair is damp with sweat, her arm tired from the weight of the iron as she smooths the wrinkles out of her husband’s shirt. Then she has to stop and wait for the iron to reheat on the stove so she can continue. It sounds exhausting and tedious. I have a large enamelware coffeepot that must hold two gallons. I see a farmer’s wife rising early in the morning, starting a fire in the stove to make coffee for all the hired hands. There are old kitchen utensils from the 1940’s hanging on my wall. Did some wife use the rolling pin to make a crust for an apple pie to welcome her husband home from the battle fields of World War II? Was the hand mixer used to prepare a cake to comfort a mother whose son wasn’t coming home?

I can only guess at the history behind the things that line the shelves above my kitchen cupboards. But I feel a respect and an admiration for the women, whoever they were, that used them. What knowledge and skill those women had. They spent the summer and fall growing and preserving food to feed their family in the winter. They sewed, and often even designed, all the clothing the family wore. They made their own soap, candles, and butter. All things we don’t think twice about purchasing from the grocery store. These women didn’t have appliances like vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Everything was cleaned with back-breaking labor.  

Why did they do it? Didn’t they get tired? Didn’t they want to quit? I’m sure they did, but of course it was necessary for survival. But beyond that, they did it because they loved. It had to be the love for their children and spouse that got them through the hot days weeding the garden and freezing trips on winter mornings to the well for fresh water.

I’m glad we have modern conveniences. I don’t want roll up the carpets every season, throw them over the cloths line and beat out the dirt. I don’t want to learn how to sew everything from a dress to my own underwear. I don’t want to spend hours working the dash of a butter churn. But it is sad in a way that this part of our history as women, this art, this science, is being lost. They did it out of necessity for survival, but they also did it for love of family. The jeans I bought for my son at Target weren’t stitched together by the same hands that comfort him when he falls. The frozen pizza warmed up in the oven isn’t seasoned with the hope of a woman who wants her family to live through another hard winter.  

I look at these tools from other centuries, and I realize that though my life is made easier by inventions of the modern era, I do share a bond with these women from the past. I, like them, want my family to thrive and survive. They knew what I have learned. Homemaking isn’t just about having a clean house. It’s the art and science of creating a safe environment where your loved ones are cared for and have their daily needs met. A place where love is the motivation behind the labor.  

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One Response to “Connected to Our Past”

  1. acupofjoy Says:

    Colleen, What a lovely post! You know I share your love of antiques and the history behind them. Thank you for writing this!- Deborah

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