Seventy-four years ago, I went to live with a very large family. I had been given as a premium, a free gift with purchase. I was already stuck in my frame.
My new owner, a nice lady by the name of Hattie and a super-scary man by the name of Carey, hung me on the wall of their kitchen. It was such a nice kitchen. There was a large round table with the prettiest oil cloth on it. The sink across the room was huge and there was a pump on the side of it. Hattie had to pump this in order to get water.
I watched as her grown children would come to eat Sunday dinner, or drop by for a cup of coffee. Hattie let the little grandchildren have a cup of milk with just a touch of coffee in it. She would make pies and she would serve them with pride to her family. Her husband, Carey, would yell at her that there wasn’t enough sugar in the pie. She would just look at him.
I remember one of the boys who had a nice laugh. He was the fourth son, not the youngest but next to the youngest. He had a nice name, Ruskin, which Hattie called him, but everybody else called him Russ. He helped around the house, fixing things that needed mending, helping his dad move things that needed moving, helping his mother clean out the lean-to.
He had nice children, but they were both girls. One of them was always arguing but the other one was quiet, taking it all in. His wife was beautiful with big dark eyes and dark hair. She didn’t seem to fit in, to this family that was loud and boisterous and always busy.
I watched as Hattie canned food starting in August and it seemed to last forever. The canning pot was always steaming on the wood stove. She put up everything she had grown in her garden. She cut the corn off the cob and canned corn, she washed and snapped green beans and canned them, she chopped and cooked tomatoes and put them in mason jars too. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t stick in a mason jar. The best smells came from her pickled peaches with whole cloves stuck in them. They smelled divine.
Then one day something horrible happened. Carey died. Hattie was completely distraught. Russ was with them. Hattie was beside herself and I wanted to come out of my frame and comfort her. He was a mean old man, but she loved him. His bark was pretty bad, but he didn’t bite. He just yelled a lot. And now the house was silent, with nobody to yell.
Hattie couldn’t stand being in her house anymore, so she packed up and went to live with Russ and his family. It would be a couple of years before they thought about me. Hattie took me off the wall in the kitchen one day when she was visiting to check out the old place. It was sad. No garden, flowers growing on their own with no help from Hattie. She was sad. She was sad from the day Carey died until the day she died, some 14 years later.
She stayed with Russ and his family as long as she could, until her and Russ’s wife couldn’t take anymore. It’s hard living in some other woman’s home when you’ve had your own for so long. Hattie wanted to do more in the house, but Russ’s wife didn’t want her to. She had to sleep in the room with her two granddaughters and the room was crowded. So she went to live with her sister for a while.
Her sister, Olive, was a quilter. They didn’t take me with them. I would have liked to watch Hattie and Olive quilt, to sit in the garden on the farm in southern Indiana and hear the night birds coo. It was a beautiful place, I hear.
One day Russ and his family went to get Hattie to come back home. She came with a beautiful quilt, a double wedding ring. The littlest girl loved that quilt, for I could hear them talking about it.
Hattie found a little house to live in with only one bedroom. It was close to another son’s home and she was content. She had cataract surgery and for the first time in years she could see to read. And so she read, with me back up on her wall, this time in the living room. We loved to read, the two of us. Sometimes she’d read aloud, so I could hear the words too.
Hattie became ill one evening and I didn’t know what to do. She got to the phone and called her granddaughter, who wasn’t sure she was ill. Shame on that granddaughter. She had also called the one closest to her and she was brought to the hospital 47 miles away. She’d had a heart attack. The granddaughter felt bad.
Hattie couldn’t go home any more. She was 86. And Russ’s wife told her she couldn’t take care of her. She had to go to a nursing home. She cried, I heard, whenever the family would visit.
Russ’s wife and Coot’s wife (the older son) came to clear out Hattie’s home. They took me with them. I went back to Russ’s house, where I sat in the attic for many years. But they moved and they took me with them again.
I ended up in another attic. Until Russ’s wife died and then he was moving again. His daughter, the quiet one, wasn’t so quiet any more. She cussed like her grandfather even though her mother tried to make her stop. She wasn’t going to stop. She yelled like Carey too, but so did Russ so they got on quite well. Russ went to live with her and her family.
I remember the day he gave me to his daughter. She was so upset because she couldn’t find a large colored oval-shaped photograph of her mother’s grandparents sitting in front of their farm. Her mother had told her it was hers. No matter where she looked, she couldn’t find it. She thought the Big Bad Wolf (her sister) had taken it for whenever she came to visit her father she would load her car up with everything that wasn’t nailed down. The quiet, yelling daughter was pissed, to put it mildly.
Russ told his daughter she could have me, which wasn’t much consolation because I’m not a picture of her family, just a picture in her family. She took me anyway. And she found the picture of her family.
I moved to Michigan and then to Canada and then back over the border again to Maine. I hang in the kitchen of Hattie’s granddaughter now. And again, I get to hear the family talk, laugh and wonder. I like being on the wall in the kitchen. It’s an old wall, older than me. And she loves me, that granddaughter who is so much like her grandfather. She even dusts me off if I get too dirty. I love her too. We belong together. Just like I belonged with Hattie. It’s been a good life since I ended up in that farmhouse in Illinois.