It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a large number of canning jars must be in want of a jelly cupboard. I already have a nifty little jelly cupboard that dates to 1855 but it’s used to store our medicinal herbs, books on health and herbalism, current knitting projects and ongoing genealogical research. I don’t think it has ever had the privilege of being the repository of canned goodness. We rapidly filled my one measly canning shelf and the three kitchen cupboards that we devote solely to home canning. The glut spills out onto the kitchen counters and even onto the dining room floor and that’s a good recipe for domestic discord. I saw and despised this new jelly cupboard for a year and a half at least, it was in the antique shop that I most like to frequent and I had bypassed it all that time because it was so god-awful ugly. It was dressed in hideous green high gloss enamel paint with cream trim.
I pride myself on being able to see the beauty in dilapidated houses and mistreated furniture, but even I couldn’t see any beauty in this thing. But suddenly one day I had an epiphany, I could strip it! I don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me previous to this. We got it for a song due to its shameful appearance and Mr. G began to remove the paint layer by layer. It dates to the 1840s and has had a hard rough life, I believe that it had been stored in someone’s damp cellar due to the condition issues that it has. We repainted it with period correct milk paint, it is now a beautiful teal color that I created by mixing 4 parts Colonial Blue, 2 parts Tavern Green and 1 part Pitch Black. Though this cupboard will eventually house canned goods I didn’t want to fill it with them while it still sits in our livingroom. Once it goes to its permanent place I will transfer the jars then, until such a time it contains miscellaneous crocks and other kitchen belongings.
Furniture with this much history behind it really speaks to me, this cupboard is as close to the American Revolution era as we are today to the end of World War 2. That boggles my mind. I think that surrounding myself with craftsmanship from a bygone era is a way to keep the past alive, to honor the pioneer spirit and survivalist mentality that our ancestors were both proud of and took for granted. Many people feel that clinging to the diversified small family farming/self sufficient lifestyle with the myriad character traits embodied in such a notion is a sign of denial and social irrationality. “With mindless irresponsibility we chase some phantom utopia which has never even existed except in the nostalgic memories of a few….” But I believe that we’re capable and responsible for making the life that we dream of living.
No builder would set about building without a plan, a plank here a brick there, a little straw woven in now and then and yet expecting that something worthwhile could or would come of it, Yet life is often approached in just such a way, with no plan or forethought, just reactionary responses to the waves of life; a good way to drown. The things we spend/waste our time on, the way we spend our money, the things we talk about, all of it, all of it is shaping our lives and the legacy that we’re leaving behind. Antique houses and furniture strike a chord in most of us because they’re a tangible representation of a people who believed in building things to last, who believed in excellence, who worked harder than most of us could fathom and yet they were really living. They weren’t hiding behind a faceless internet anonymity writing about life while never really living it. And we’re drawn to it, maybe even in ways that we don’t realize in a small attempt to neutralize the effect that modern life has on us. The past is seen as an antidote against the crassness and shallowness that are the hallmarks of today. The peace and beauty of a well loved antique is a fitting presence in the home of people who are trying to live a life more common a century ago than today. They help ground us in our beliefs about work, family, community and history and continually call us to renew our commitment to strive toward a life worth living.