What a storm of memories an old tin pan can bring churning through a moment in time.
There is one, admittedly settled with dust, that hangs by the back door at Mama’s. For most of the years that have followed her death, I have scarcely noticed it, though I was always aware it was there. It is about the size of a kitchen sink and calling it “battered” is a compliment to its condition. There is not one spot that isn’t beaten out of shape. It can’t even sit on a level table without rocking back and forth.
To me, it calls out “Appalachians” for it is the kind of serviceable pan that my people would long use for toting apples or gathering green beans or muscadines. I can see it now, sitting there on a rough-hewn table carved from whatever tree that fell. They always found a way to use whatever they had. When they had a hog killing, as soon as the first frost fell, they used every part of it.
I don’t know what made me notice that pan, really notice it, but I paid great attention to it the other day. I took it down off the old nail on which it hangs and wiped the dust from it. Suddenly, a lifetime of summers came tumbling over me.
Mama would tote it to the garden and cut okra off the stalks or pile fresh green beans in it. Then we’d take the pan to the porch, spread a newspaper in our laps and begin stringing and snapping. Or field peas. Lawd, I’ll never forget the tenderness of my thumb from all that shelling we did. I took for granted the fresh vegetables that filled our table or all the work that went into “putting up” reserves for the winter.
Cream corn was the worst. We’d shuck it, then Mama would take what our people always called a “butcher knife” – that was anything with a big blade that could cut a slab of beef – and she’d run it over the corn to cut the kernels then – and this is where the cream came from – she would run it back and forth over the cob, scraping the cream from it.
Boy, did it fly everywhere. We and the kitchen cabinets would be covered in the sticky mess. I never thought it was worth all the cleaning up – mainly because I had to do it. If you didn’t get it off the cabinet doors, they’d stick to you every time you touched them.
Mama used that big old tin pan to hold the rinsing water for dishes. We never had a dishwasher, though I dreamed of one and looked in the Sears catalog for one. Oh, the summer mornings that Mama would finish the breakfast dishes then lug that big old pan outside and water her roses with it.
After Mama died, I paid little attention to the climbing roses that would yield hundreds of roses around Mother’s Day. She loved them. For special folks, she’d cut roses, wrap them in a wet newspaper and take them a bouquet. Those roses stubbornly hung on despite my neglect until a faithful reader told me that if I put Epsom salts in the soil during the fall, they would rejuvenate. I tried it and she was right – the vines hung heavy again with the red/pink flowers.
Here’s what I remember most vividly as I held the ancient pan: all the tomatoes that Mama brought in from the garden.
“Look at them tomatoes,” she’d say proudly. “Ain’t they pretty?”
She’d use that pan to hold fresh tomato juice, which she canned and used many a winter’s night for her homemade cream tomato soup, served with hot cornbread.
“You remember, don’t you?” I asked the pan.
Then I hung it back on the nail by the door.