Our family doesn’t like to throw anything away. This is a problem, given that I and one of my sons have inherited houses that were full of things to begin with, and given that my daughter used to haunt yard sales and the Ladies Village Improvement Society’s Bargain Box looking for interesting household implements and china and doodads.
I often say “it came with the house” when someone notices and admires something around here. I’m really very lucky: Furniture of local origin was inherited, as well as many nice old books — but also a huge store of kitchenware, things like sieves and 19th-century pie plates and prehistoric popcorn poppers that probably could electrocute a person.
A typical example of the kinds of things you can find in our kitchen is the dark, tarnished-looking prewar potato masher with a wood handle. Some newer members of the family think it looks dubious (if not potentially detrimental to health). But, according to those who take charge of the mashed potatoes this time of year, it works much better than the modern one that’s in the drawer alongside it. Or the pair of old can openers that the Vermont Country Store now replicates; or the five or six huge glass pickle jars with green lids, which Martha Stewart copied.
There’s nothing like having 16 for Thanksgiving dinner to force someone to take stock of the kitchen and pantry shelves. My daughter was pleased when, after not too long a search, I laid hands on the only slightly rusted, heavy inherited meat grinder, in which she ritually crushes orange, candied ginger, and a chunk of nutmeg for fresh Thanksgiving cranberry relish.
I was especially relieved to unearth the meat grinder because, before that, she had sent up a weep and wail about the disappearance of a favorite tin Mouli cheese grinder from the 1940s (originally used by her grandmother), and been loudly chagrined not to be able to find any of the several Pyrex pie dishes that used to live on one of the top shelves.
I protested that I was quite sure no one intentionally threw out these things . . . but then I turned around and pointed the finger of blame at my husband over a missing turkey baster. Between you and me, I’m quite sure my husband did throw out the good baster. Of course, I only discovered this crime when the 24-pound turkey was already in the oven and all I could come up with were various bulbs and tube parts that didn’t fit together properly.
Who keeps a large variety of turkey basters on hand, and vintage ones, at that? We do. My daughter, come to think of it, gave me a present some years ago of a really old one still in its cardboard box. Where could that one be? I haven’t noticed it in the drawer recently, even though it’s a real museum piece. (It came from the same era as the old milk bottles that I collected for a while, which stand in a line on the sill of the pantry window.)
The reductio ad absurdum, however, is a supermarket graham cracker piecrust on a top pantry shelf, where it has been sitting in plain sight for perhaps seven or eight years. Exactly why I didn’t throw it out when I recently rid the shelves of things like long-outdated baking soda and desiccated spices is a matter that might be of interest to a psychoanalyst, I’d say. The piecrust in question has a foil shell and is covered tightly with plastic, so I haven’t bothered to take it off the shelf and investigate whether it’s actually still good.
I blame all this on family tradition. We have a deep, deep-grained habit of — and appreciation for — preservation of, well, everything that might disappear. Words, names, land, furniture, traditions, footpaths. Even rather useless household detritus that, apparently, helps connect us to our roots. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.