Heirloom crock recalls baked beans, sibling rivalry and Kool-Aid [Part I]

Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part short story.

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I thought it was ugly. My mom thought it was pretty.

It had belonged to her mother. Mom said my grandmother had used it to bake beans in. My experience with beans was with those that came out of a can. My sister, Frances, and I would fight over who got the lone piece of pork that each can contained.

I had found the old pitcher setting on a basement shelf, hidden by some boxes. Carefully, I picked up the heavy clay jar that stood almost nine inches high, and I carefully brushed away the dust and dirt covering its mottled green surface, revealing the Greek motif that was molded into the clay.

My mother's oldest sister, Rae, told me the story behind the pitcher. It was near the turn of the century - the 20th century - and her mother, Lydia Fowler, my grandmother, was living in Salt Lake City.

Lydia had wanted something to bake beans in, so she rode the trolley into town and found this pitcher in a store on State Street.

Now, Aunt Rae was unclear as to the cost. She was not sure if it had cost 25 cents or $2. There was a "2" in there somewhere, I was told.

After paying for her purchase, Lydia didn't have enough left for car fare and had to walk the two miles home, carrying that heavy pitcher.

Then, Aunt Rae told me how every week on washday her mother would bake beans. She would pour diced tomatoes and onions into a pan and then add brown sugar, mustard and chunks of raw bacon.

After stirring the mixture, she would add navy beans that had been soaking all night and pour the mixture into the pitcher.

Then, she would cap the pitcher with a piece of brown bread and place the pitcher into the oven of her wood stove.

Having completed that job, she would place pots of water on that large, flat-topped kitchen stove to boil as she started her laundry. This was pretty much an all-day job, but by evening when the laundry was done, the pitcher of beans came out of the oven and served as part of the evening meal.

This was all pretty interesting, but my own first memories of the pitcher went back to when I was a small boy and those wonderful occasions when the pitcher was used to make Kool-Aid.

Saturday was grocery day at our house. Mom and Dad would get into the car to do the grocery shopping for the week. While they were gone, we kids had various chores that had to be done.

Frances and I had the unpleasant task of scrubbing the linoleum floors in the kitchen and dining room. We would each get a pan of hot, soapy water and an old rag, then get down on our hands and knees and scrub. The only variety to this task is that we would alternate each week between the kitchen and the dining room.

My oldest sister, Pat, would kick off her shoes and vacuum the floor in the front room. Her routine seldom varied. She would quickly clean the rug, then sit in the chair by the front window and watch for Mom and Dad.

Seeing them, she would quickly put her shoes back on. I'm not sure if Pat did it to aggravate Mom or if she just hated wearing shoes. In any event, Mom would always get very upset about Pat not wearing shoes.

Pat had a special affinity for the vacuum cleaner. I suppose it goes back to the time when Mom had been upset with her and had spanked her with the metal extension tube of the vacuum.

So Pat would tell any and all of the time her mother beat her with the vacuum cleaner.

Mom would get angry with this. She said it made her look like some kind of monster. Mom would then try to explain, but that only added to the humor of the situation.

Mom was not one to spare the rod and spoil the child. If she believed you needed a spanking, she would grab the nearest instrument and deliver it.

Fortunately, she didn't have to do this very often. We quickly learned that if was not a good idea to disobey Mom. It was an even better idea not to argue with her.

Later, she would say that there was never a time that she spanked her children and did not get the worst of it herself. I always doubted the validity of that statement.

When Mom and Dad returned from the grocery store, the entire family would be pressed into service to help unload the car. We would bring in the bags of groceries, which were then stacked on the table and kitchen floor.

Dad would get a pencil and one of the little colored pads of paper that had been printed especially for him, and then he and Mom would go through the grocery receipt and as each item was checked off, he would write down the item and its price on his pad.

I believe Dad was an accountant at heart. He record-keeping was not restricted to just grocery day. Every purchase that was made had to be dutifully recorded on one of those pads.

Dad would become very upset if we forgot. With Dad's accounting system, he knew what happened to every dime he brought home and what it was spent for.

If Mom gave me money for running an errand or doing a special chore, and entry would be made like this: "Wally, 25 cents."

This system naturally created some aggravation for Mom, because she occasionally would want to make a purchase that Dad did not approve of. I suspect that at times she became creative in her record-keeping.

If Dad ever suspected, he never said anything, although I often heard him brag about how smart Mom was.

Mom and Dad would seldom take any of us kids when they went shopping. I believe Dad looked forward to it, but Mom was less enthusiastic. I also believe that had there been an alternative, Mom would have been very happy to leave Dad at home, too.

Dad was very particular about what he purchased. For instance, he would not purchase any product manufactured in Salt Lake City. He had very strong opinions about the capital of Utah and would refer to it in a derogatory manner.

Later on, he mellowed, and out of deference to my mother, began referring to it as the Manure Pile.

He also never purchased a product from a company that had once had ties to Ogden, Utah, and then for whatever reason, left town.

Dad was very proud of his hometown of Ogden, a city that he had literally helped build. There was hardly a building in town that he had not replaced at least one window in. Many times, he would follow behind the contractors, building window frames and installing new glass.

The one building of which he was most proud was the new Mormon Tabernacle. Few people are aware that he built it, or of his pride and craftsmanship.

Dad was also very outspoken on the subject of Salt Lake. If prodded, he would often respond by saying, "Those no-good ..." and what followed would refer to the religious heritage of the state, that most of the citizens of the capital city were born out of wedlock and that their avowed purpose in life was to perform an unnatural act on the city of Ogden.

People often got the impression that my father was not a religious man. He often bragged that he went through the church like he went through school - in the front door and out the back.

The fact was that Dad was a very religious man in a backhand sort of way. He believed in God and talked to him frequently. Although his conversations were one-sided, he never hesitated to make the good Lord aware of a situation that could use a healthy dose of divine intervention, and if that could not be arranged, to at least make note of the offender for later retribution.

He was also known to call on the forces of the universe when things were not going right for him. It is easy to see how people could be mistaken about Dad.

Back in the kitchen, as each item was checked off the grocery receipt and written down, we would put the food away. Cans of soup and vegetables went into the cupboard over the stove. Milk and fresh vegetables went into the fridge.

There was a special place for everything. Mom liked to keep thing organized, too. When you had a husband and six kids to feed, you had to.

Frances and I would wait to see what kind of breakfast cereal they had bought. Sometimes, they would surprise us by bringing home a box of Sugar Frosted Flakes or a package of individual assorted cereals. But that didn't happen often.

To be continued ...