My Favorite Family Heirloom - A Shovel!

| 11/2/2010 7:40:22 AM

Tags: history, peak oil, gardening, Cam Mather,

When you live in a farmhouse that was built in 1888 you can get a real feeling for history and the passage of time. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it was like for the Sniders when they were working this land 70 or 100 years ago. We are fortunate that Ken and Madeline Snider stop in about once a year for a visit. Ken has hiked around the property with us and he showed us where they made maple syrup and where the old drive shed used to be. The last time I stood in the barn foundation with Ken he pointed out the rocky hill at the northeast corner. I’ve never liked that area because it gets really slippery when it’s wet and as Ken told me, the cows didn’t like it either.

We’ve been fortunate to have been given some family heirlooms which seem to suit the house really well. My Grandmother gave us a set of china called “Bridal Rose” that has been in the family for many generations. When my Mom passed away, I inherited her silver-plated cutlery collection. Each piece has an “M” engraved on it. It turns out that as she was growing up she often received a piece of cutlery for a gift on special occasions. Can you imagine the excitement she would have felt as a kid on Christmas morning opening another darn fork?! “Yippee, it’s that serving spoon I’d hoped for!” The cutlery was engraved with an “M” for Micklethwaite which was her maiden name. It’s a good thing she married my dad Bruce Mather (was this one of her criteria in searching for a husband?), so that the initials on her silverware were still appropriate after her wedding. Since my sister’s married name starts with a “C”, it just made more sense for me to get the silverware.


We have a big pine table and chairs which were made locally and seem to suit our dining room quite nicely, and the replica cook stove helps to make the room feel so warm. The cook stove runs on propane but we are considering replacing it with a wood/propane combined unit, or eventually just going for an all-wood-burning one. Sitting at a table in a room where families have eaten meals together for 110 years, with place settings and silverware that has been in the family for generations seems to reach down to a place deep in my soul for this feeling of tradition or continuity.

Michelle’s Dad passed along a family heirloom to me, or at least it is something that I mentally designated as an heirloom. It is a shovel. Lorne was a phenomenal gardener and I learned a great deal about growing vegetables from him. He set me out early on a path to work with nature and grow organically which I know has helped me greatly and will be even more beneficial as we reach the limitations of petroleum-based traditional agriculture. So this shovel means a lot to me.

Now the shovel isn’t perfect. Lorne actually gave it to me because he didn’t like it. It was too heavy. I can’t remember the story, whether he bought it without realizing it was heavy, or whether it was a gift from someone, but one way or another he didn’t use it and so he passed it along to me. I liked it, because even though I could barely lift the darn thing, it came in handy for prying things out of the ground when you didn’t want them anymore. Whether it was a root or a shrub or a bush, they were no match for this shovel. You could wedge the shovel under something and then use your whole body weight on it to leverage it out.

Robert Haugland_3
11/4/2010 1:03:24 PM

Handles aren't hard to make but you should use hickory or ash or something that resists the pressure put on the handle when digging. I really think that I went into the wrong line of work when you mentioned what your daughter does. That is really cool that she can make a living out of what interests her!

Steve DeJernett_1
11/2/2010 3:07:53 PM

Hey, how about leatning a new skill and making anew handle for that old shovel, with your daughter at your side. Then it becomes an extra special heirloom with a second story, and maybe she will add more before she hands it down to the next generation. Steve

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