|Home -> The Press in the Forest -> The Long Ago -> Chapter 4|
|Butter, Eggs, Ducks, Geese
It seems mighty convenient to telephone your grocer to send up a pound of butter and have it come all squeezed tight into a nice square-cornered cardboard box whose bright and multi-colored label assures you that the butter has been properly deodorized fumigated, washed, sterilized, antisepticized and conforms in every other respect to the Food and Drugs Act, Serial 1762973-A. You read the label again and feel reasonably safe at meals.
Huh! Precious little grandmother knew about that kind of butter!
Hers came in a basket - a great big worn-brown-and-shiny, round bottom, willow basket, hand-wove. It didn't come in any white-and-gold delivery wagon, either. It was delivered by a round-faced, rosy-checked, gingham-gowned picture of health, whose apron-strings barely met around the middle - for Frau Hummel brought it herself - after having first milked the cows with her own hands and wielded the churning-stick with her own stout German arms. She had the butter all covered up with fresh, sweet, white-linen cloths-and hand-moulded into big rolls - each roll wrapped in its own immaculate cloth - and when that cloth was slowly pulled away so that grandmother could stick the point of a knife in the butter and test it on her tongue, you could see the white salt all over the roll - and even the imprint of the cloth-threads . . . Good? . . . Why, you could eat it without bread!
"What else have you got today, Mrs. Hummel?" (Grandmother never could say "Frau" - and as if she didn't know what else was in the basket!)
"Vell, Mrs. Van, dere is meppe some eks, und a dook - und also dere is left von fine stuffed geese."
So the cloth covering was rolled farther back - and the 3-dozen eggs were gently taken out and put in the old tin eggbucket - and just then grandfather came in and lifted tenderly out of the basket one of those wonderful geese "stuffed" with good food in a dark cellar until fat enough for market. . . . Ever have a toothful of that kind of goose-breast or second joint? . . . No? . . . Your life is yet incomplete - you have something to live for! . . . Goodness me! I can't describe it! How can a fellow tell about such things! It's like - well, it's like Frau Hummel's "stuffed" goose, that's all! . . .
And then it was weighed on the old balances, steels - (no, I don't mean scales!) - steelyards, you know - a long-armed affair with a pear-shape of iron at one end and a hook at the other and a handle somewhere in between at the center-of-gravity, or some such place. . . . Anyway, they gave an honest pound, which is perhaps another respect in which they were different.
Then the ducks, too, were unwrapped from their white cloths and weighed - usually a pair of them - and the old willow basket had nothing left but its bundle of cloths when Frau Hummel started out again on her 10-mile walk to the farm.
Whenever I see a glassy-eyed, feather-headed, cold-storage chicken half plucked and discolored hanging in a present-day butcher-shop accumulating dust - or a scrawny duck almost popping through its skin - I think of Frau Hummel and her willow basket. . . .
But Frau Hummel isn't here now - and they don't build ducks and geese like hers any more - and her old willow basket is probably in some collection while we use these machine-made things that fall to pieces when you accidentally stub your toe against them in the cellar. . . . We are hurrying along so fast that we don't see anything until it's cooked and served. . . . We just use the phone and let them send us any old thing that they can charge on a bill. . . . But in those days grandfather and grandmother inspected everything - and it just had to be good - and there weren't any trusts - or eggs of various grades from just eggs to strictly fresh eggs and on down to eggs guaranteed to boil without crowing. Every Frau Hummel in the country wanted the Van Alstyne trade - and Frau Hummel knew it - and she never brought anything to that back kitchen door unless it was perfect of its kind.
No wonder grandfather lived to be 92 and grandmother 86 - in good health and spirits to the last!