The House on the Corner

Today, on the eighth day of November, we highlight the blessing of HOME, beginning with the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Home. Does the word give you a warm, pleasant feeling. Or do you recall a house filled with more tension than love? Is your first thought to a childhood home? Or perhaps you prefer to think of where you raised your children. Is it people? Or a place?

Unlike many of my elementary and high school classmates, I did not live in the same house my entire childhood. Then again, we only moved once during those years — from “the brick house” on main street in the village–to “the farm” located four miles of paved road outside of town.

“The Farm” consisted of more than a house. Yes, the two-story frame house with basement and small porches was where we slept, ate, and spent some time together. But the farm was more — if you look behind the maple tree (which contained a bee hive) and the taller elms, you can see the tall barn and the granary. A red chicken coop and/or hog shed (same building served both purposes at various times) in the background and the white brooder house (for young chicks) near the maple tree completed the primary structures. Much time was spent in all of these buildings. It varied by time of year. However, the barn — with morning and evening milking — was a constant.

Do I remember the house with fondness? Not with the degree of joy for the more encompassing “The Farm”

Looking for a romance set on a Midwest farm? SEED OF DESIRE introduces three cousins keeping the tradition on their grandfather’s, and great-grandfather’s piece of land.



Tick, Tick, Tick

Time passes. Time flies. Time drags.

Some days (most days?) Americans appear obsessed with measuring time and packing as much activity as possible into each second.

During school and career years, large portions of my time were measured and observed by others. Some tasks were dependent on the timely completion of work by others. For example: I could not do procedure B until another person completed procedure A. And another, usually impatient, person wanted the results so they could do procedure C.

If this sounds like a supply chain — you’ve got the right idea.

Keeping track of time is not a new thing for Americans.  The settlers brought time pieces along in their wagons of goods.

A clock takes center mantle in this reproduction of a 1830’s home.



Winter Construction

In past decades, construction in the American Midwest tapered to next to zero in the winter. For two, three, or four months the construction workers were idle. A few carpenters worked inside jobs and electricians and plumbers continued to make repairs. (Plumbers more than usual if temperatures dropped after the electric went off.)

A different sort of construction became obvious. After each fresh snowfall the kids came out. Forts were popular to give interest to the snowball fights. Snow angels appeared in the yards. (The trick was not to disturb your fine work when you stood up and stepped away.)

And then there was the old stand-by.

                       My father helped in the construction of this fine specimen.                      I was about five years old.


Old-fashioned Door

Touring historic homes is an activity I enjoy. However, as I get older, I discover that I’ve seen (sometimes used) historic items.

Consider the door on the right. Yes, the one with the locked chain to keep tourists (and others) out of the structure.

My great aunt — and others in my hometown — had a similar door to her house. It was a handy place to sit when all the lawn chairs were full of adults. She didn’t use it often but the residents of this historic, early 1800’s home would have.

It went to the cellar. Yes, cellar, not basement. Think dim, cool, and full of shelves, bins, and crocks of supplies. Open the doors wide and walk down the five or six steps. Is it daylight? Did you bring a lantern? Careful where you step! Creatures may have slipped in to enjoy the cool, pounded dirt floor.

Imagine being the child sent to get the potatoes, carrots, and onions for the kitchen. I’d fill my basket quick. How about you?

My great aunt’s home — build nearly a century later — also had an interior set of steps to the basement. Much better during winter storms.


Ancestors Evening

How many generations of your family can you record by name?

Did they live in the same city or region as your? The same state? The same country?

Different groups brought their regional habits and forms of entertainment when they moved.

While during the day many of the families socialized with others doing work or business — the home became the center of activity in the evening. Especially in the days before electricity, telephones, and the “modern” distractions.

Study the photo and imagine. Papa (or grandfather) enjoying his evening pipe while others in the family tour the world with pictures on the stereoscope, read, or sing by lamplight.


At the Heart

At the heart of the home is…the kitchen.

In the Midwest farming community where I grew up — many of the houses (town or rural) had the entrance into the kitchen. Often this was via a back porch — sometimes open, sometimes enclosed. This was the door that was used.

Yes, every house had a front door which often opened to the living room. But the traffic pattern here was light. A knock on the front door signaled strangers.

Step back a few generations and the same pattern emerges.

Time was spent in the kitchen — by residents and visitors. This is where the women did a great amount of work preparing food for either immediate or future use. Family and guests gathered around the table for meals. Visiting and evening tasks were accomplished close to the heat and light of the fire.

This two room frame house with a central fireplace was a common floor plan in the 1830’s. The kitchen side of the fireplace was at the literal center as well as the functional heart of the home.


Before Tupperware

Storage is necessary for every household. You need a safe place — away from insects and vermin — to store food for tomorrow, next week, next month.

Today we have freezers, refrigerators, staples sold in cans and jars, and the ever present plastic container with a secure lid (when you can find it) to keep food for future meals.

But what about before every home had electricity? What about the homestead where you couldn’t get to town more than once a month? And town didn’t have the well stocked stores of today.

Earthenware. Crockery. Pottery.

Storage jars, many with lids, of this material have been made and used almost since man tamed fire.

This museum collection shows examples from the latter portion of the 19th century. Our household, and most in the neighborhood, had a few “crocks” in various sizes. A great-aunt used one for her cookie jar. (On the back porch–always ask first.) Ours were missing lids, but a dinner plate with a weight (rock) served well when my brother made a batch of wine.



Revising Thinking

Do you read historical novels? Or biographies set in previous centuries?

I’ve been reading them in some form or another since I pulled “On the Banks of Plum Creek” from the school library shelf. One of the many things which fascinated me in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and others, is the way common chores and household tasks were performed.

As an adult, I enjoy touring historic homes and seeing first hand some of the items in daily use. Some of them were very clever. Some I was familiar with. (It happens when you grow up on a small farm using second, or third, hand equipment.)

And every once in a while I’m touring a place and have an AHA moment.

The lady of this house kept her fine needlework in this corner to take advantage of the good light from the window. Candles, and later oil for lamps, was too precious to use for this task.


In this Corner

American pioneers may have had less than the merchant and well-to-do residents in a city — but they had dishes. Some of them brought over from Europe. Others were manufactured more local.

It was common for the kitchens in the first half of the 19th Century to have a corner cupboard. This is where the dishes were kept. It used a minimum of floor space — important in a small cabin. The pioneers were also aware of the taxes.

Taxes? A corner cupboard?

Yes — taxes were not always assessed as they are today. At various time and various places the tax collector counted windows, doors, or rooms. A closet counted as a room — they used shelves with half (not full) doors as a “clothes press” or a free standing wardrobe. A built in kitchen cupboard would count as a room if it had three sides and a door — hence the corner cupboard.

             Plates, platter, bowls, cups, and a teapot.                                          Everything necessary to set a table for guests on the frontier.


Kitchen Progress

Fireplace cooking is cumbersome. And heats the kitchen (sometimes the whole house) as much in summer as in winter. What felt good in January can drive a person from the room in July.

The cast iron cook stove solved some of these problems. And the companion piece — the parlor or heating stove — solved others. A stove uses less fuel. The flat cooking service accommodated any cast iron  or metal pan with a flat bottom. Gone was the hook to hang the kettle. Thanks to a small, but well placed, oven, baking became easier. And what farmer or worker doesn’t appreciate some fresh bread after a day’s labor?

A great step forward for 1850’s cooks.