I’m remembering my grandmother’s vacation purse. You know the one, embroidered straw, maybe a palm tree, or a red lobster on one side and a blue crab on the other, maybe “Hawaiian” flowers. There was nothing to say Grandma had been anywhere much, but even if that purse was only from a summer road-trip, it was still a prideful thing—freedom in a bag.
I remember it mainly for what was in it: that little tin of mints, Juicy Fruit gum, machine-embroidered hankies, a snap change-purse, the thin leather notebook with the fascinatingly thin gold pencil. Magical objects, the purses of our grandmothers.
I also remember the canvas coal-scuttles that replaced those summer straw purses. Remember? Big sailcloth things they were, with a flat leather bottom so that they stood right up when you set them down. Those bigger bags seemed to sweep the beach clean of straw, one summer or another. Those bright, embroidered little straw boxes were suddenly “tacky.” (Does anyone still say “tacky,” by the way?) Then came the anonymous, shapeless catch-all “Le Bag” and the like. Nothing much to notice since. Now it’s the ubiquitous and hideous backpack everywhere, I suppose, even at the beach. Those wicker purses, with their amber plastic handles, went the way of hand-painted ties, picture postcards and fringed lampshades, never to be seen again but in antique and junk shops.
But nothing is ever gone for good, is it? Not quite anyway. I do see those straw summer purses now and then, on the arm of some pretty hipster chick, a tattooed new mother with a Bettie Page hairdo, a tank-stroller and cork-wedgies, bless her. Looks fabulous. Everything old is new again.
Indeed. One thing I would never have thought to see again? Educated, middle-class urban and sub-urbanites keeping chickens. Did not see that coming. No sir, did not see that coming.
Now, I was just country enough, growing up, that I still can’t quite grasp any number of popular hobbies that look very much like chores to me. And not just chickens, mind. Hiking? That still looks like walking to work ’cause you don’t have a car. Likewise bicycles. Gardening in general—at least anything other than flowers—still looks and feels, to me, a lot like sweated labor; farming, yard-work, bringing in the sheaves, etc. (You will never be as dirty in your life as when you’ve been baling hay, believe me. But then, they don’t really bale hay anymore, do they?) Canning? Sewing? To say nothing here of pickling, brining, smoking and drying. All of it, just chores. It’s the sort of thing that still makes my African American husband, when he sees someone in expensive sneakers and a homemade apron, selling homemade picklelilly at the Farmers’ Market, shake his head and murmur, ” . . . white people.”
That’s not fair, of course. I know the philosophy of the whole earthy enterprise and one can’t help but be moved by the good nature of the undertaking, the very real concern, not just with authenticity, but the environment, sustainability, taste. All to the good. And, may I say, I am only TOO happy to eat anything, and I do mean well nigh anything. You good people might care to give me from your organic garden and/or preservative-free-pantry, not to mention that charming rustic kitchen. (I draw the line at so-called Vegan cookies. I’m not saying they’re all bad, but that just is not a cookie, dearie.) I know from long experience, long ago, that there is nothing quite so glorious as the yolk of a farm-fresh egg.
I do wonder though at a generation that seems so eager to put aprons back on and spend their summers weeding and parboiling and shucking. I mean, I’m sure the slow food people are right to disdain the can of grocery store peas and whatnot, and I’m glad of the fresh, pesticide-free edamame, but it bears mentioning, surely, that the only reason grandma got to go on vacation and get that purse was because she was free, as a working woman—for the first time in human history—from doing laundry on a rock, from raising her own everything, from scrabbling and digging and brine and bread-making . . . to walk on a beach.
I’m glad to see the craft of quilting preserved. I love home-canned tomatoes (Got any that need eating up?). I applaud the urge to keep the best of the old ways from going the way of even the best and dearest old people.
I am however deeply suspicious of both nostalgia and, frankly, any leisure not spent reading novels. (We all have our own ideas of fun, now don’t we?) Remember, please, how much getting that purse cost my grandma— to say nothing of what it cost the Chinese lady who probably stitched it. That said, feel free to drop off any eggs and produce from your garden that you might not need, and I’ll make us a real nice frittata. I’ve got a great old cast-iron pan, big as a wagon-wheel—belonged to my grandma.
And herewith, some of the more successful titles from the bookstore’s display of chicken books!
Keeping Chickens: Getting the Best from Your Chickens by Jeremy Hobson and Celia Lewis
Chicken Coops: 45 Building Ideas for Housing Your Flock by Judy Pangman
The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens by Andy Schneider
Brad Craft buys used books at University Book Store in Seattle and blogs at usedbuyer2.0. As a boy of seven, having forgot to bring a bucket, he collected the eggs in his pockets. Do not do this.