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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