Thursday, March 24, 2011

Currants, by Abraham Lincoln

When I was a little boy, still in bib overalls, I used to wander over to see Esta Flory, then an old woman whose old man never made his own smokes—Esta rolled them every morning—about breakfast time. I went to the side kitchen door past the row of currant bushes and when they were ripe there were dozens on bushes riper than this that I snatched off, crammed in my mouth, and peeked in through the screen door like an orphan to see if I was invited for breakfast. Sometimes I got to eat twice—first at home—second at Esta's house; plus the currants.

Life was simple in those days. A kid could dip both hands in the wash basin to get cleaned up. Rubbing wet fingers over both eyes and across front teeth was good to do. No soap was required and there wasn’t anything to dry. My hair flopped like it fell last week when mother washed it with the bar of Ivory soap and poured bath water out of the galvanized tub to rinse it. It was there until she washed it next week.

I was always hungry and looked for food that either smelled better or was seasoned more or it looked good on nice plates. All our dishes looked like they fell off the table, and cracked ever which way, but were still stuck together. A million little cracks were filled with germs or so I thought. Mom said her dish water was hot enough to kill anything living in them cracks.

Esta had nice knives and forks. They were black wooden handled knives and forks with big rivets through the wood but you couldn’t feel the rivets. They were worn smoother than the silk used on funeral ribbons. The metal was black too and the ends of the forks were as sharp as needles.

Mom told me wood handles were dirty because old dirty, greasy, dishwater soaked up between the wood handles and metal and then it leaked out on your food when you used it. If I was invited to eat I tried to pick out a metal knife and fork. Still I liked to look at the black wood and shiny brass rivets.

Seems to me like people used everything for mugs and bowls and nothing was left out of circulation for long. I never knew what I would get if I got cereal but it would be anything from a coffee mug to a bowl that held mashed potatoes last night at supper. Mom said it doesn’t matter if you’re hungry.

I can honestly say we made toast the old fashioned way every morning. Mom would stick a slice of bread on a dinner fork and take the lid off the cook stove and hold the fork way out on the end while the bread began to burn brown and then black on each side. If she held it too long the side was total carbon and she scraped it off, or most of it off, before she put some butter on it and put it on my plate to eat. She said a little carbon was good for you and I believed her.

It happened, when the fork got hot mom had to drop it, bread and all, into the hot coals in the stove. She grabbed something from somewhere, maybe from her apron, and dug around, sending sparks to the ceiling. The bread was always like carbonized coal when the she got the fork out of the stove.

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