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An Iron Kettle

image000000I was at an estate sale when I saw it. It wasn’t one of the things I bought but I wanted to. Just because of all the warm memories.

I bought an old hymnal, an edger with dried clay on its blade, a tiny Hispanic doll made of woven straw from Ecuador, several tiny memo pads with colorful bird pictures, and a marble topped foyer table. I didn’t know where I would put that heavy black kettle and I left it there amongst various other iron pieces–corn stick pans, irons, a waffle iron, several skillets, etc.

That iron kettle had so many stories to tell, I’m just sure. It was larger than the one I remember, probably held a whole gallon of water. The spout was generous, the handle a little crooked from some escapade. I could imagine mornings of long ago when that kettle stayed on the back burner all day long, ready for producing hot water. The iron was a bit ashy looking as if it had only recently come out of hiding in this modernized electrically equipped house. Some restorative measures might have made it perkier.

But then a big iron kettle like that isn’t intended to be perky.

Mamma’s iron kettle was almost a part of her wood burning stove. If there was a fire in the stove, the kettle was humming, steam issuing from its spout. Whether it was time to prepare a dishpan for after-supper clean up, or make a pot of tea, or hand wash some laundry, the water was ready. But there were times when the need for hot water was more dramatic.

I’m guessing that kettle supplied the hot water for the births of eleven babies my mother delivered at home. I don’t personally remember those times, although the eleventh birth brought me my dear little sister and I do remember the occasion very well. Not from the perspective of the kettle but from the perspective of a three-year-old wanting Mamma to tuck her in bed and not understanding why that night was so different from others. The doctor and my Dad were very kind to me that night when they finally let me see my Mamma with an incredibly small pink wiggly bundle beside her.

Then there were the times Daddy prepared to drive the old Packard and it wouldn’t crank up. There was a hasty call for hot water and someone would take it on the run to pour in the cold radiator. Sometimes a push-off was required also before the motor “turned over.” I’m told my older brother Charlie, when he was a little tyke, lined himself up with the rest to push the Packard. But when the rest let go as the car picked up speed, Charlie was still holding tightly to the bumper, his little feet flying over the ground. Big sister Pat ran to rescue him!

When Mamma opened a little block of yeast for making bread she’d reach for the kettle and pour hot water over it in a bowl to dissolve it. If Daddy had lumbago Mamma would send someone to fill the hot water bottle to apply to his back. On cold mornings when Mamma gave us kids a quart of cocoa to take to our woodland schoolhouse, she’d heat the jar first by pouring hot water over it in a pan–so it wouldn’t crack when the hot cocoa came in contact with the glass.

If Mamma or one of the girls needed hot water fast and the kettle had gotten low, they’d take a griddle off the stove and set it aside, then set the kettle right next to the flame. Soon the water would be boiling. I can remember, too, the white enamel pan with a red rim we used for what we called “spit” baths, or just to wash our hands and faces. Mamma declared war on dirty faces. She said she hoped her mother had dirty faces to wash in heaven or she wouldn’t be happy. I think she hoped that would be true for her too because she sure liked to make our faces clean.

When Daddy killed a chicken for Mamma to dress, she depended on a good full kettle of hot water for scalding the chicken in the de-feathering process. If I hated the killing of the chicken in the first place, I also hated the smell of scalded skin and hot feathers. I was amazed recently to hear one of the grandchildren talking proudly about how she’d helped de-feather some quail.

When brothers brought in the milk morning and evening, the girls would strain the milk and then wash the milk buckets, ending with scalding them good with water from the black kettle.

I’ve seen my handsome father shaving in the kitchen with a straight razor and, of course, water from that kettle.

Amazing, isn’t it, how many pictures you can see in your mind prompted by one simple object. Now I wonder if I should have bought that black kettle. I can just see its face drooping a bit when I finally turned away after considering it for the second or third time. I hope someone else finds it who can give it another life.

Hey, I saw this Bible reference on the Piggly Wiggly sign this week: Romans 15:13. I looked it up. Here it is: “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

That’s my prayer for you!

 

 

 

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Watching the Martins

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It was a beautiful morning when Susan and I traveled out into the country to visit our friend Sherry and watch the martins. Sherry had invited us pretty urgently, cautioning us that she thought they were about to leave for the season. In fact, there weren’t as many that day as there had been earlier, she said, but it was still a great show.

Charles and I have tried to attract martins but never with success. We’d love for them to feast on our mosquitos. But now I know we didn’t try hard enough. If you erect a whole community of martin houses in the open with lots of sky view, they will come. That’s what Sherry and her husband, Jerry, have done, Sherry having the vision and Jerry the skill and muscle to make it happen.

Sherry served us coffee and muffins on her generous porch. From there, looking across the peaceful blue swimming pool, we could see the martin condominiums with birds flying in and out the openings. Some would take to the sky while others were taking care of housekeeping.

“There really aren’t many today,” said Sherry anxiously. “Ya’ll should have come sooner when the place was packed.”

“We didn’t come just to see the birds,” Susan assured her.

“And anyway, it seems pretty lively to me,” I added. “We certainly don’t see them at our house.”

“There’s a nest with eggs about to hatch, I think,” said Sherry pointing to one of the martin mansions.

“Well, they’ll have to stay a while longer then,” I said. “They’ll have to wait for those babies to grow enough to fly with the rest.”

“That won’t take long,” said Sherry. “You know how fast our children grow. They grow up overnight.”

That brought on discussions and stories about grandchildren. Pictures were passed around. We became so enthusiastic we almost forgot about the birds.

Then I noticed the sounds of chickens clucking and chuckling around the porch, tending to their morning’s work.

“Hens laying these days?” I asked.

“We get some day by day. Enough for an omelet now and then. Jerry gathers them. One day when I was fetching the eggs I found a big gray snake in the nest with an egg half swallowed. I let the snake have it. Had nothing in my hands to finish him off with!”

I shuddered.

Susan remembered her own recent snake story. “I went in a shed at the back of our house to get a tool. Reached up and plucked it off a hook and turned to go out when suddenly something came down across my head–a sizable snake!”

“How long was it?” asked Sherry.

Susan held up her hands to indicate eighteen inches, then laughed. “Johnny says it was only this long,” she said sizing down to about six inches.

Sherry insisted on our getting more coffee. She, being very short of breath because of a lung disease, let us serve refills for ourselves.

The martins were busy again, some wheeling in the sky, others flying into their homes. Some were sitting on their porches, like us. We talked about their distinctive shape, their deep black shimmery color and their ability to one day simply pick up all their luggage and go to a distant land in Central or South America. We marveled at how God has made every creature able to take care of itself. How can the birds know where to go? How do they make such a long journey? We’d never be able to do that (without all our super aids). But “we” can build martin houses–and skyscrapers!

“One day we’ll look out and there will be no martins,” said Sherry. “Just all their empty houses. And Jerry will go to work repairing and cleaning out their homes. So they’ll be ready when the birds come back.”

“And about when is that?” I asked.

“Maybe about March. Early spring. We look out one day and there are a few scouts flying around, then soon there’s a flock wheeling, building nests and all.” She laughed. “One day I was sitting here watching and this one bird flew up to his door with a stick about a foot long. It was a show watching him force that stick into the small hole but he did it.”

It was a very good morning. Susan and I agreed it was one of the most fun visits we’d ever been on. As we drove back to town full of coffee and muffins and blessed with good conversation, we remarked that this was really life, taking time to stop and watch the birds with friends.

 

 

 

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