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Cold coffee, a cellar and lye soap

April 30, 2018

I’m standing by the stove stirring a pot of what will be dinner this evening at Sutton Central. A place of mass chaos, yet complete organization for this family of seven. I opened a Mason jar filled with green beans snapped months ago and the pop sound made by the seal breaking revived memories of my great grandmother’s home from many years earlier.

 

When I was a young child, we loaded the car, a huge silver four-door Ford, and set out for great grandma’s house in the country.  It was not an impressive house, just one of those simple and sturdy farm houses built in the 1880s that dot the countryside throughout Kansas. It’s not the architecture that I remember so much as the smells and the tastes that were familiar to those visits.

 

Most memorable was a trip to the outdoor cellar.  Great grandma, in her sturdy home-sewn work dress, would raise the giant white cellar door slowly.  We would carefully peer beneath waiting for her to knock down the cobwebs and make the first assessment of uninvited guests that may be lurking below. The pungent earthy smell of a dark, damp storage crypt attacked the senses as we descended the stairs with guidance from a small flashlight beam. Great grandma would then carefully collect a few jars and shoo us back up to the daylight.  Our reward was hearing the popping sound when she broke the seals and getting to sneak a taste of the green beans hours before they would be served!

 

There were a couple of things that certainly were off-limits to those under the age of 10 years while visiting.  Touching the giant loom that overwhelmed the small living room was top on the list. If we were lucky, she would take a moment to demonstrate how to make a rug for her young audience.  Second on the list was the upstairs bedroom that contained the circular lye cakes used for washing clothes. There was no doubt that we would indeed be touching these before we ever exited the car on our visits. It was just a one-finger-touch, and just for a second with our breath held. Weren’t we relieved when this exposure indeed did not cause a horrific reaction to our skin as we’d been told it might!

 

Before our visit came to an end, we could always count on great grandma to make a cold coffee for us.  What is now considered a trendy drink was, in 1975, a symbol of being a grown-up-five-year-old. Frankly it tasted disgusting.  I’m fairly certain it was instant coffee crystals dissolved in water straight from the well with no ice added. But we drank every last drop with enthusiasm as she watched us smiling.

 

In the heart of my kitchen hangs a poem framed with a century of experience watching over the culinary escapades of generations of my family. It’s not terribly attractive. In fact, I found it abandoned on the wall not long before great grandma’s old farmhouse was torn down.

 

The poem is called “Mother’s Apron Strings” and pays homage to the uncomputed strength of those apron ties. I happen to be an apron junkie. I love the pockets and, frankly, I’m kind of messy so it works out.

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