Friday, March 30, 2012

30 March 1933 “My Love Affair with a Stove and Old Living Situations New Again.”

mumstove This is one of two stoves that sit in my MIL kitchen. I forgot to take a photo of the other, older wood cook stove now used for heat as well as burning paper trash and of course the lovely look of the kitchen.

This old Glenwood is my MIL primary cooking stove/oven. I have always loved it. I remember the first time I had dinner at her home when hubby and I were just dating. When I walked in I knew we were going to get along. She, too, loved the past. It was apparent in every aspect of her home, which is filled with antiques. Most of which were got the old fashioned way, inheriting them.

I have wanted this type of stove for some time. Well before my 1955 year, this was the sort of kitchen I liked. Though then I did little cooking. When my voyage to the 1950’s began to feel like a lifestyle I toyed with the idea of getting a vintage 1950’s range. But, the cost seemed foolish and we also moved from one house to our current one. Now, this dear old house, we have put on the market. That is a long story, but suffice it to say the change in economy and our country is heavily influnced decisions in our life we thought we would never take. But, I digress.

I have cooked on this stove and love it. You must light the pilot light every time you wish to use the oven and you also light the burner with a match after putting the gas on. There are darling nickel and enamel knobs and the whole body is enameled steel. I love the cabriolet legs and you can see, things can easily be stored underneath as well as making it a dream for cleaning. Who knows what lurks under one’s modern stove, until you take the laborious task to pull it out for cleaning.

Now that I am in 1933, this type of late 1920’s (I believe this is a 1929) stove is perfect. But, again, we are moving. And to install such a stove in a kitchen to which we are selling to the general public, I am sure many would want to tear it out for a modern one. Though, our home is almost 300 years old, so presumably whomever buys it will WANT an antique. Again, I am wandering off a bit of my point.

My point being that I have always loved this stove and this type of stove. I have had the pleasure of using it sometimes. My MIL has also told me I can use it more this winter if I like, as she spends the winters in Florida. That was kind of her, but we have been so busy with so many things I have only cooked once or twice on it. It does make me sad to think of it sitting there for months on end in the winter with the house mostly empty. And in the Summer, my MIL spends much of her time on their boat moored on the vineyard. So, the old gal (the stove not my MIL) doesn’t get used as much as she once did.

Back in the 1970’s my MIL decided to try her hand at the ‘return to land’ then becoming popular. Granted, she was hardly a farm girl and bought her old Victorian farmhouse, hundreds of acres on the side of a mountain in main with money inherited not earned. She was a trust fund hippy,for sure,  but I still applaud her for her choices. She could have easily lead a pointless life of idleness, but rather chose to move herself, her young son and hubby to a big old un-insulated farmhouse in the middle of now where in Maine. My hubby was born there, as well.

It was there she first got this stove as well as the old 1900 cast iron cook stove I mentioned earlier. The pair of them have followed her around to her various houses until she settled where she is now on the Cape. But, there in Maine she had cows she milked and made butter and cheese. She grew things with her hands and raised chickens and rabbits for meat and eggs. She drove tractors and mucked out stalls and was very much a farm girl. It being harder still, her not having grown up around it except for horses as a young girl. And all these foods grown on her farm were cooked up and canned on this old stove. It has a happy history and it is a joy to cook on.

mumsink This is her sink in the kitchen and it also is an old one. It was one of the sinks in that old Maine farmhouse and happily moved with her. It is a joy to do dishes here as it looks out on the water and the sun pours in. There is always a pot of this or that herb growing on the window sill as well and one just feels happy and homey when there.

Now, speaking of old things and ideas, another part of my MIL house that is antique is a concept. The concept of the unmarried daughter ‘at home’. My SIL still lives at home.  She is unmarried and in her 30’s. It seems normal to us that when she came home from school (Walnut Hill which once prepared girls for Wellesley and then for Harvard husbands) she simply moved back home.

She moved from her childhood bedroom across the hall into a small apartment that connects to the house and sits over the garage. It has its own little bath and kitchen and bedroom. At one time, a time long past for any of us, it would have been a maid’s room. Once the neighbors nanny lived there and paid a small rent to my MIL to have a place of her own. She was called Nan (for nanny) and when the children out grew her she stayed on. I recall her when hubby and I were first engaged. When we would visit we always made the trip up the stairs and across the hall to visit Nan. We’d sit and visit with her, play with her little dog. And when she passed away we all went to her funeral as if she were family, because in many ways she was.

Now, this little apartment  happily houses my “spinster SIL”. She can creep downstairs and water plants and take care of the house while my MIL is in Florida in the Winter.

My niece, who is almost 30, also lives with us. She served as Gussie for us for a bit back in 1955. She is unmarried and it seems normal that she lives in a little cottage on our small plot of land. She had a serious boyfriend for awhile but when that ended, she simply returned to the bosom of her family.  When we move, it is assumed she will come along with us. To us, it is normal.

This sort of old thinking, of the unmarried or older relatives, treasured old servants, remaining with families is a lost concept. But one, I think, that is returning. As our economy continues to fail and housing crashes, more homes are foreclosed upon, many families and older children have no where to go but back to their parents home. This, since the 1950’s, is often seen as some sort of shameful act. Or a failure on the part of those moving back. That the right of the separate family unit after raising their children, is to be happily rid of them. I am not sure why this seems a happy goal, to me it rather seems sad.

Before the 1950’s and certainly in the Victorian days, families lived together in ways very different from what we do now. I often laugh when this sort of arrangement is portrayed in modern movies concerning the past as the ‘unmarried daughter’ is trapped in stifling situation of having to be ‘at home’. This may have been the case sometimes, but I know in many cases unmarried daughters were happy to be ‘at home’ and would care for their aging parents. We have journals from my hubby’s family of such relatives happily filling their days with gardening, walks and visiting with various relatives and guest that came on trips to the house. The sense of place and constancy and of home was very different then.

Since the ‘housing boom’ of the last decades, home became houses which became investments to make a fast buck. Buy it, flip it and  move on. Much like the ever changing lives of constant technology, new phones and computers, cheap clothes, buy and toss out. The rapidity and constant flux of modern life is rather like standing on the edge of a cliff with a stone in each hand, balancing. And one must change out the stones constantly but be careful of the weight so as not to tumble down the side of the cliff.

Maybe one of the better things to come out of our ever changing economy will be a new point of view and opinion on relatives living together. The aged parents at home to help with daycare. The unmarried aunts spoiling the kids with sweets or teaching them needlepoint in their attic rooms. Maybe, when prices really bottom out, the Mcmansions of the past decade could be divided up from great rooms and entertainment rooms to more bedrooms for relatives to share housing, cooking, and general costs. We may be moving back in time because of our economy.

I do know that there is much good and much to be learned from the past and I am happy living in many ways the ‘old ways’. Much of how hubby and I even view the world has changed so much from my experiment mingled with our changing times that even letting our beloved house go seems a good move. It might seem a contradiction in terms to talk of place of Home while currently putting our own old home on the market. But,  to make a better life more affordably and possibly to include more family as need be seems the right thing for us. One never knows, next year might very well be 1911 for me, who can say. And a new decade just might need a new local and more room to improve one’s self-sufficiency.

However it works out, though, I am glad to know that the past has become for me a safety net. In many ways it is a Home of its own; a place I can retreat to where the fires are warm and the dogs sleeps softly on the old rag run in the kitchens. Upstairs are the shuffles of spinster aunts and old servants filling their mantles with beloved treasures of sea shells and petite point doilies. The food is kept in larders and not in colored advertised boxes. And laughter in the evening is family and friends over cards not canned laugh tracks coming from the glowing blue of the TV screen. Texts are in books not on screens and mail comes from the post in envelopes with thought out ideas in drying ink from fountain pens, not digital emotions made with colons and parenthesis.

It seems the more I turn back the more I look forward to the future. A future in which I feel I can create a happy home and life and not the uncertainty of the vastly changing needs of a consumer society. Home is where you make it, I suppose, and for me I like to make it with help from the past. And when it takes more time to light that match to start the old stove I can enjoy the process and listen to the conversations of family, not missing the speed of the microwave as I dash to a car with a sippy cup full of coffee with an ipod in my ears.

Happy HOMEmaking.

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