Container Mania: Maine Make-do and Memories



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The Farrell domain is full of containers of the rural and artisanal variety – too full, says the Team Leader. He murmurs the word ‘cluttered’. I close my ears. These are artefacts to think by.  They resonate with story.  (See  also Basket Case, the story behind my Nubian mats.)

Yet even G was beguiled  by this American sugar bucket or firkin, once used for collecting sap from maple trees.  Not that we knew this when we first spotted it in the Ocean Park antique store in Southern Maine. The elderly owner of this  ‘going-out-of-business’ curio emporium was having a sale. He did not mention the maple syrup, but called the bucket  a farm ‘make-do’, pointing out that the replacement handle was a length of horse harness, and that in its latter days it was probably used for doling out animal feed.

I instantly pictured my own rural upbringing in Cheshire (England). When I was small my parents rented a house on a large farm. I often used to help the farmer’s wife feed the hens, carrying a bucket round the orchard chicken run, and tossing out handfuls of corn to  happy, healthy hens. So you can guess what happened next.

Sold. One ‘make-do’.



 The ‘make-do’ now sits on the kitchen window sill, and further reminds us of the kindness of Cousin Jan who was the reason we went to Maine in the first place. She let us stay in her magical Ocean Park cottage.  (Thank you, Jan and Craig, and happy anniversary to you both).

The bucket makes me smile for other reasons too. The Stars and Stripes came free when we bought it – a give-away  on account of the flag’s deficit of stars. It only has 48, and thus pre-dates 1959 and the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the USA. I recall the brittle humour of the dealer who gave it to me. It turned out he was married to an English woman, who coincidentally just happened to come from G’s home town of Wolverhampton. He said he met her during ww2 when he was stationed  nearby. He was thus a bit of an antique himself, although you wouldn’t have known it to look at him. He said he was giving up the shop to concentrate on doing shows instead.

So there you have it. My justification for container mania (and I haven’t even mentioned the Polish potato basket which I use to store my onions, or the Zambian gourd that holds my cooking salt). This plain, rustic bucket simply goes on accruing meaning, a bit like Rumpelstiltskin weaving gold from farmyard straw. Which of course makes me wonder about the craftsman who made it, and the generations of family members who used it, and the circumstances by which one individual decided that, despite the broken handle, there was still good and useful life left in it, and so applied a length of harness strap to keep it going for another generation or two.

But for G, who would ever de-clutter if I gave him the chance, he has own reasons to be well-disposed towards the make-do.  Now that he knows it was probably once used for collecting sugar sap, he recalls the bright winter days of his Ontario childhood, the crisp air filled with the scent of hot maple syrup. For every year, at the winter maple syrup festival, freshly gathered sap would be boiled up outside in a big vat, and then thrown, sizzling, onto the snow-covered ground for some taffy pulling, and then much delicious eating. He speaks of this memory so vividly that I almost believe it to be my own…

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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26 thoughts on “Container Mania: Maine Make-do and Memories

    1. Well thank you, kind sir. I much appreciate your comments, Noel. And thank you, too, for travelling with ‘writer at the edge’. I never know which edge I’m at of course 🙂

    2. I should also have said that I learned most of what I know about storytelling in Kenya – from reading the dear, now lost Wahome Mutahi, and Sam Kahiga, and all those great storytelling journalists that are the sons and daughters of your particular soil.

      1. You do it so well. I can’t tell such a long and beautiful story from just one container, I would need several containers to just write half of what you did here.

    1. Thanks so much, Su. I think it might be in response to OH’s desire to declutter. The more stories I invest in each piece of ‘clutter’, the more reasons I create for it to stay 🙂

  1. Such a feel good post, Tish! Made me smile 🙂 My hubby has his “manias” as well and I have to confess whispering the word clutter…once.

  2. Maybe that’s the reason we buy souvenirs of all kinds – to remind us of certain feelings, memories, and wishful sentiments. And, of course, to write stories about such objects…of course, not everyone can do it as well as you do 🙂

  3. I really enjoy visiting “antique” stores when I’m in rural areas. You never know what you may find in one and often the real surprise is the proprietor. Had I seen that bucket, I’m sure I would have bought it. I’ve no use for it but it’s good to have a few useless things about.
    Great post, Tish.

  4. Firkin heck….a hoarder. Just like my dear wife.
    Her epithet shall be ” Does it eat bread? Then it stays!”
    Cheshire? Hmmm… Whereabouts? I grew up in Chester.

    The name Jan made me smile.
    My dad was born in Newquay and when he joined the RAF he picked up the nickname ‘Jan’, an abbreviation of Janner, a reference to Cornish men.
    Bit of nonsense trivia to add to your entertaining post, Tish.


    1. In the wilds near Sandbach – which was our nearest town, or Smallwood that was our nearest village, or actually on a farm called Bechton, if that’s how it’s spelled. But why would a Cornish man be nicknamed Janner? Btw my niece lives in Chester and loves it. Still a very nice town.

      1. Yes, I should have qualified, as Janner is supposed to be for people from Devon, I believe?
        My dad once told me the bloke who originally gave him the name during basics either got his geography mixed up, or it had to do with his dad being stationed at Plymouth during the war.
        My grandfather was a batman aboard HMS Hood.
        Anyhow, whatever the reason, the name stuck.

  5. Love this story of your container Tish, but what I really like is the fact that you have uses for your interesting finds, the Polish potato basket and Zambian Gourd in daily use and not just gathering dust on a shelf. That will certainly save them from any de-cluttering… 🙂

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