The Green Pitcher
I thought it was ugly. Mom thought it was pretty. It had belonged to her mother. Mom said that her mother had used it to bake beans in. My experience with beans were those that came out of a can. My sister Frances and I would often fight over who got the lone piece of pork that each can contained.
I had found the old pitcher sitting on a basement shelf, hidden by some boxes. Carefully, I picked up the heavy clay jar that stood almost 9 inches high. 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, and her mother, Lydia Fowler, was living in Salt Lake City. Lydia had wanted something to bake beans in. So, she rode the trolley into town, and had 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 two in there somewhere I was told.) After paying for her purchase, she did not have enough left for car fare, and had to walk the two miles home carrying that heavy pitcher.
Then, Aunt Rae told me of how every week, on washday, her mother would bake beans. She would pour diced tomatoes and onions in a pan, then added brown sugar, mustard and chunks of raw bacon. After stirring this mixture, she would add navy beans that had been soaking all night and pour the mixture into the pitcher, then capping it with a piece of brown bread, she would place the pitcher in 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 was taken out of the oven and served as part of the evening meal.
This was all pretty interesting, but my 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 in our house. Mom and Dad would get in the car to do the grocery shopping for the week. While they were gone, us kids had various chores that had to be done. Every Saturday, my sister 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 soppy water, and 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 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 am not sure if Pat did it just 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. Pat would tell any and all of the time her mother had beaten her with the vacuum cleaner. Mom would get angry with this. She said it made her look like some kind of a monster. Mother would then try to explain, but that would only add humor to the situation.
Mom was not one to spare the rod and spoil the child. If she believed that you needed a spanking, she would grab the nearest suitable instrument and deliver it. Fortunately, she did not have to do this very often. We quickly learned that it 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 when she spanked one of her kids where she did not get the worst of it. I always doubted the validity of that statement.
Frances and I also had to do the dishes every night after supper. She would wash, and I would dry. She would sweep the kitchen floor and I would take the garbage out. It had been Fran that decided on this arrangement. One night she relented and let me wash. I quickly regretted this decision. She found fault with almost every dish I had washed. Although we would sometimes argue and fight, I never complained about the arrangement. It was a lot easier to do it her way.
Looking back, it is curious to note that Larry was somehow exempt from having to perform any of the household chores required of the rest of us. It seemed that he always managed to be somewhere else, or have something more important to be doing. I never thought to bring that question up, and he was smart enough not to say anything.
When Mom and Dad returned, the entire family would be pressed into service to help unload the car and 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 the receipt, he would write down the item and its price on his pad.
I believe that Dad was an accountant at heart. His record keeping was not restricted to just grocery day. Every purchase that was made had to be dutifully recorded on one of these pads. Dad would become very upset if we forgot. With Dad's accounting system, he knew what happened to every dime that 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 cts." This system naturally created some aggravation for Mom, because occasionally she 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 had 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 that Dad looked forward to it. Mom on the other hand was less enthusiastic. I believe that if there had been any alternative, Mom would have been happy to leave Dad home.
Dad was very particular about what he purchased. For instance, he would not purchase any product that was manufactured in Salt Lake City. He had very strong opinions regarding the capital of Utah, and would refer to it as "Sh*t Ville." Later on, he mellowed out, and out of difference to my mother, began referring to it as the "Manure Pile." He would also never purchase a product from a company that had once had ties to Ogden, 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 at least replaced one window. Many times he would follow behind the contractors, building window frames and installing new glass. The one building he was proudest of was the new Mormon Tabernacle. Few people are aware that he built it, or of his pride and craftsmanship.
Dad was 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 sex act on the city of Ogden.
People offtimes got the impression that my father was not a religious man. He often bragged that he went through church like he went through school. In the front door and out the back. The fact was that Dad was very religious, in a backhand sort of way. He believed in God, and talked to him frequently. Although his conversations were one sided, he never hesitated in making the good Lord aware of a situation that could use a healthy dose of divine intervention. If that could not be arranged, to at least make note the offender for later retribution. He was also known to call upon 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.
There were times when the family was going for the usual Sunday drive and we would be stopped at a red light. Dad hated traffic lights. He believed that there was a little man somewhere, and as soon as he saw dad coming, would push a button to make the light red. If when the light finally turned green, and if the car in front had not started moving immediately, Dad would then advise the good Lord about this thoughtless and inconsiderate driver. "Jesus Christ! Can't they see that the light has changed?" "You silly Bastard, did you forget where the gas pedal is?" Or, "Dam'it, why don't they get off the road if they want to fix their hair?"
Dad did not believe that women should be allowed to drive. Dad also felt that women should not be allowed to sing, at least in public. Dad often complained that these people did it deliberately, just to annoy him. As often as it happened, I am inclined to agree.
Mother would tell us that there were times when they were shopping that she would have loved to be able and go some place and hide. This was especially true when they were stuck in a long checkout line at the grocery store. Father did not like people who wrote checks. He was a cash sort of guy. Now the line would be moving and everything would be fine. Dad loved to watch the checkers, how their fingers danced over the keys of the cash register with a speed and dexterity that amazed him. Then when the total was rung up, the customer would reach into her purse and pull out a checkbook. Dad would then flip. "Jesus Christ, why do those silly bastards always wait until everything is rung up to write a check?" He would mutter this quietly enough that he could only be overheard three or four isles away. "Christ, now we'll have to wait while she balances her checkbook. Don't they know this ain't a God damn bank?"
Mom would try to distance herself from dad, but this was not easy. Especially when she was trapped in a checkout line between a grocery cart and my father. She would gaze around the store pretending she did not know who this man was, but it did not work. She would be the only person in the store not staring at Dad.
Most of the time Dad would be ignored by the check writer. But once in a while the tables would be turned and Dad would become the victim. This is a story that Mom told me about one Saturday morning shopping trip.
There was one woman who managed to get even. It was the usual Saturday morning, the store was busy, and there were long lines at the checkout. Dad, of course, hated waiting in line. As he neared the register, a young woman took out her checkbook and began writing a check to cover her purchase. She became the immediate recipient of my father's frustration.
The woman deliberately ignored him, and casually wrote the check. She then made it a point to make the appropriate notations in the check register. After tearing the check out of the book, and handing it to the cashier, she stated in a very loud voice, (obviously for dad's benefit) "could I have the change in pennies?"
Dad was speechless. When the cashier asked the lady if she was serious, the woman laughed and replied that no, she was not. Then taking her change and picking up her bag of groceries, she turned, smiled, and winked at dad. Dad knew then that he had been had. He blushed for a moment then laughed. Dad loved a good joke. Even when he was on the receiving end, he would laugh as hard as anyone.
As each item was checked off the grocery receipt and written down, we would put the food away. Cans of soup and vegetables in the cupboard over the stove. Milk and fresh vegetables in the fridge. There was a special place for everything. Mom liked to keep things 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 did not happen very often. We would be delighted to see a box of Raisin Bran. Even more exciting was to find a box with a special prize inside. One time there was a box that had a ring inside. Mom bought two of these, she knew all about sibling rivalry. Frances got a ring with a picture of Gabby Hayes. I got Dale Evans. I was in love with Dale, but was too bashful to ever admit it. I kept that ring hidden. I kept it in a matchbox for a while, and then later I hid it somewhere in the house where no one would find it. I have forgotten where I hid it, I suspect that it is still safely tucked away in some dark recess of that house.
As the last of the groceries were put away, mom would set the table for lunch. Plates would be set, some silverware and glasses. One of us would get the pitcher out from under the kitchen sink, and after rinsing it out, mom would make "Kool Aid." First she would put in a cup of sugar, then add "Kool Aid," then began adding water. She would stir, taste, and then add a little more water.
While Mom was mixing the punch, one of us kids would get a tray of ice cubes out of the fridge. Mom would run water over the tray until she could break the cubes loose, then dropped them into the pitcher.
Our Saturday lunches were special. Dad would always buy two dozen "hard rolls." These rolls had little seeds on them. Some had the little black poppy seeds that I did not care for. Others had Sesame seeds on them. I thought those were pretty good. There was also several packages lunchmeat. There was always bologna, ham loaf, pimento, and another with cheese in it. Dad loved it, I always wondered how he could eat it. It looked awful.
We would all gather around the table, and begin making sandwiches. I loved to experiment with different ways of making a sandwich. Dad could break one of these rolls in half, I never mastered the technique. Instead I would carefully cut it in half with a knife. Then taking the jar of mustard would carefully spread an even coat on both halves. This would drive my brother Larry nuts. I always seemed to get the mustard before him, and before I was even half way done, he would comment "you missed a spot." Quickly I finished, and turned my attention to the selection of meat. This was never an easy chore. After finally making a selection, I would carefully cut it in half and lay it carefully on the bottom half of the roll. Sometimes I would add a slice of cheese. In any event, the finished sandwich was a work of art. Or at least I thought so.
While I had been busy building my sandwich, Mom had been pouring punch. She would hold a butterknife over the spout so the ice cubes would not slip out. If one should escape, it could easily break a glass or at least make an awful mess. This would be a tragedy. There was usually only enough punch in the pitcher for one large glass for each of us. If there were any extra, dad would get two.
Sometimes our Aunt Ada would stop in for a visit. Her and her brothers had a small farm, and she would bring my mother a paper sack full of eggs. She would always bake a cake for these visits. They were always the same, a three layer yellow cake with yellow frosting, and a row of walnuts around the top. My parents would comment that Aunt Ada liked to put a lot of eggs in her cakes. Dad would joke that if you ever dropped one, it would bounce. I tried it once with a piece, it hit the floor with a quiet "splot" and just lay there. I was kinda disappointed that it did not bounce. Our dog quickly cleaned up the mess. After licking up the last crumbs, looked up at me, hoping I would repeat the experiment.
I was happy to see my Aunt Ada for one special reason. Whenever she came, dad would only have one glass of punch. After he finished his sandwich, he would rinse his glass out and then fill it with milk. If I played it right, I could get a second glass.
That green pitcher was only used on special occasions, such as Sunday dinners and picnics. Back then having a glass of punch was always a very special occasion. Eventually it was replaced with a glass one that had a lip on it to hold back the ice cubes. It was still used occasionally at out large family dinners at would be filled with ice water. Sometimes Mom would use it as a vase. She would pick a bouquet of flowers or lilacs and then after arranging them in the pitcher, would set it on the Mantel in our front room.
It was eventually moved to the basement where it kept company with other kitchen appliances that were no longer of any use. It seemed such a pity that such a noble piece of pottery had been relegated to such ignominious obscurity.