Friday, March 26, 2010

Old Ruins & Blue Bottles

It is a wild and wonderful March day here in New England, with a wind that comes up behind you with such force that it feels as though a schoolyard bully has taken both his hands and shoved you with all his might!! There is still winter here in the last dirty piles of snow and in the distance on the snow covered mountain that looks like a powder blue toque, decorated around the crown with white feathers!!!(Can you tell that we collect antique hats?) But spring has come, even if it is in a whisper. Last night at twilight I heard a robin singing, not with the bravado of his sunset concerts in May, but tentatively as though not quite sure of himself or his audience. And there are small purple and yellow crocus struggling up from beneath last autumn’s oak leaves(blown in from God knows where as I don’t even know the location of the nearest oak). The crocus have not dared open in this cold weather, but look for all the world like small balloons that someone did not have the breath to inflate!!! And there is mud everywhere….as sure a sign of spring as the robin’s song, a veritable paradise for the likes of Wilbur and his fellow swine!!

It was on wild spring days just like this when our father and mother would take us on local history adventures, to old New England town commons, with their massive venerable trees, and ubiquitous plaques describing heroes who fought in The Revolution, and markers describing battles that had raged in nearby fields now overgrown with last year’s goldenrod and aster. Our father was writing a local history book so we saw every long forgotten historical tidbit worthy of note. We stood high on top of a massive stonewall and heard about two feuding neighbors, who slowly built a spite wall between themselves. Our father locked us in the town pounds, sturdy old structures constructed of massive stones where wayward cows and sheep were corralled until claimed by their owners. My mother, sisters and I conjured up the creatures who had been imprisoned within. We imagined sheep, goats, horses and the passive cows(who probably would not have noticed the difference between grazing freely on the common and being penned in, so long as they had grass at their feet and a bit of blue sky overhead.)

Our adventures down the back roads of New England more often than not included bottle digging forays. We would climb over those wonderful stone walls that snake through New England’s countryside like gray blue rivers. Somehow our father had an innate sense of where the old cellar holes might be. Sometimes he read the area like a garden diagram, noting a lilac bush or mountain laurel standing valiant guard by an old roughly hewn stone step that no longer led to anywhere. Oftentimes March rain and mud would somehow magically bring the buried treasures of the past to the surface. Sticking out of the earth would be a bottle top, a marble, a rusted out graniteware pan. We would dig around for the kitchen midden, all the while spinning tales of the farmer and his wife who may have lived there. How strong the hands were that built these stone walls and cleared the fields! How lovely and clear the wife’s voice would be as she called across the fields to summon him to dinner. Did their little house have pretty small paned windows overlooking a garden? Did the house have low ceilings to keep in the heat? Did it have a tipsy chimney like a house in a fairy tale? Did the farmer and his wife have children? Sometimes we knew that chidren had lived and played where we now stood, when we dug and found a bottle for babys’s colic, or even more definitively, when a tour about the place would reveal a child’s small gravestone huddled low against wind and weather in a corner of a meadow. And for just a moment in time we rebuilt the house, replanted its perennial gardens and met the family by the cottage door. Our father would break the spell when he began digging with the shovel he had used as a walking stick, carefully moving the earth that had been undisturbed for so long. Our mother would invariably caution to watch for poisonous snakes that in her mind coiled in every stone wall we climbed and every midden we dug into, just waiting to strike!!! When our father, only after reassuring our mother that he would be cautious of any lurking rattlers, began to uncover broken shards of blue, we would switch to trowels and little spades. With all the broken shards of blue at our feet, like bits of sky, I always commiserated with Henny Penny, who must have felt such distress at the thought of the sky falling!!!!(This was one of Dad’s favorite tales…) Sometimes, we only found discarded fragments, an unearthed mosaic of sorts, sometimes in a natural design worthy of a castle floor. Other times we were like lucky pirates, when we would discover a cache of bottles, enough to make even the most hardened and sea worn pirate’s heart beat the faster. Each was a prize that we held up to catch the light like an expensive gemstone!!! We would ooohh and aaahhh over each and try to scratch away the caked on mud to read what had been contained within, usually with no success. We would carry our buried treasures home, their beautiful lavender and blue encased in one hundred years worth of spring mud, their contents a secret until we submerged them in a tub of sudsy water.

This spring, lonesome for those old fashioned simple adventures, we decided to create a vignette featuring early New England blue bottles, so evocative of a different time, when the medicine cupboard contained spring tonics and cures for everything from consumption to baldness!!! Some of the bottles we have unearthed over the years and some that we purchased to add to the collection have ancient dried herbs in them and are labeled with bits of paper scrawled with faded brown ink with the herb’s name (hyssop, feverfew, tansy) and directions to boil a scant teaspoon to cure a stubborn cough or a heaping teaspoon as needed for nervous complaint. After much discussion, we have decided that we would much rather (if forced to it) take our chances with the farmer’s wife’s medicine. After all it was she who had been handed down garden and roadside cure-alls, that were as important to her as her receipt file. It was she who would have learned adages at her mother’s knee as she toddled about the herb garden being schooled in such phrases as “Why should a child die if its mother has sage in her garden?" We would rather not take our chances with all the Drs. Parker, Smith and Blount combined, who for profit peddled alcohol and sugar in the guise of good medicine in all those lovely blue bottles. We placed a collection of housewife’s and “Dr.” bottles in a nest of grasses, corralling them in an antique wood box. We couldn’t resist tucking in a collection of old Russian letters. We love the dichotomy between the utilitarian bottles and the romance of those foreign letters.

Just looking at these bottle, I can hear the clank of my father’s shovel as he broke the ground and the encouragement in my mother’s voice as she admired our discoveries. I think that is why we love antiques, because they unite us with the past from which we grew….

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Easter Centerpiece

On one of our treasure hunting expeditions this weekend we went to one of our favorite little antique shops. We discovered this beautiful oversized Meakin English ironstone platter. We debated between using it as a serving platter for our Easter lamb, ham or strawberry spinach salad. We thought the salad arranged on this platter would be not only a gatronomical, but a visual feast with its almonds, fresh strawberries, crisp baby spinach and its drizzle of dressing spiced with paprika, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and secret ingredients. However, our decorating sense won out over our culinary creation! So, we put together this simple Easter centerpiece. We filled the platter with sweet meadow grass and nestled antique marble eggs in the center.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring is around the corner...

Spring rides no horses down the hill; But comes on foot, a goosegirl still; And all the loveliest things there be; Come simply, so it seems to me.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Friday, March 05, 2010

Shadow Box Creations

We are starting a new enterprise: Shadow Box Creations! We have taken photographs of our first shadow box. We have entitled it "Bathing Beauties" and have tried to recreate the feel of a day on the boardwalk just after the trophies have been awarded to the Bathing Beauty Queens! These women were actual winners of a New Jersey shore early 1900's Beauty Pageant! We have included an antique flag, vintage sea shells, old sheet music, vintage embroidery floss and the most delicate antique sea moss. We used old anagram game tiles to name the piece. Wouldn't you have loved to live in a time when beauty was defined by lovely hair and a pretty smile and not by whoever was the thinnest! So let's raise a glass to when a parasol, a pretty hat and hoisery were de rigeur to win the pageant!