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Posts Tagged ‘The Henry Ford’

As I write this, it’s a grey, rainy day. It’s cold, too, which doesn’t help much. I’ve been sequestered inside for most of the time, finishing online homework and (gasp!) reading a book, building a fire, making dinner. Bacon and potatoes. It was lovely.

I also took a quick walk around Greenfield Village. If you’re not from my neck of the woods, Google Greenfield Village, or The Henry Ford, as it’s known today collectively with the other attractions it’s partnered with. Yes, it was rainy and crappy out, but that’s one of my favorite times to go. For one thing, I get the whole place to myself. No people to dodge, no trying to ignore inattentive parents letting their kids do things that aren’t allowed, like feeding the geese or climbing trees. I don’t have to talk to anyone, I can just soak up the whole place, the ambiance, be myself and let the memories of working there for so long come flooding back.

They’re good ones, the memories, especially those from days like this at the farm. We’d hardly get any visitors, only a few brave ones dared to squelch their way down the dirt path of the farm lane to us. When they did come, we would welcome them warmly into the toasty kitchen and because there wasn’t a line out the door, we could spend some extra time talking with them. It was nice, like having company over.

Many times, though, on days like this, we’d barely see a soul and those were days when we became family. Of course, all of the chores would still have to be done. This isn’t Disneyland, it’s a real working farm from 1885. Animals have to be fed, stalls mucked, fields plowed, the stove and fireplace cleaned out and lit, water pumped, cows milked, dinner cooked, dishes washed, all of the things that made, and still do make, it real. On days like this when I had to work outside, it would be miserable. My boots would be soaked through with wet from the barnyard, full of poo and mud all mushed up together, the hem of my dress in deplorable condition. The Period Clothing department that made all of our clothes would look at us in dismay when we’d bring things to be repaired, but hems and pant cuffs got the worst of the abuse from the manure/mud combo we’d put them through. (Pigs would also bite our clothes, or cow horns would rip something. We were not Period Clothing’s favorite people.)

At the time when I worked there, the draining system hadn’t been improved yet, so we had to wade through a small lake to get from the house to the barn and back. Even the chickens were smart enough to stay in their coop or the barn where it was warm and dry. None of the animals wanted to be outside, but we still had our work to do.

Milking the cow, or cows, was a job we’d fight over on these raw days so that our hands would be warm, although I was felt badly for the cow in question. We’d get our bodies warmed up with the physical work, but our fingers and toes would be frozen and soggy. When it was time to come in for a quick break, we’d be so grateful for the warm wash water put out for us by the ladies in the house. We’d scrub up the best we could and come into the sitting room to dry out by the fire for a while, boots off, sometimes stockings and bonnets, too, hung over the fire screen and placed close to the flames, steam streaming up from the wet things.

We’d drink coffee, eat some cheese toast or cookies, and just talk while our things dried and we watched the rain come down. If it was dinner time when we came in, dinner could last a long while, especially if there was nothing pressing that needed to be done in the barn or the manure wagon didn’t need to be emptied out in the back forty or in the fields, as it often did. It was during one of these rainy days where I slipped on a wet wagon wheel while climbing back into the manure wagon and would have bashed my forehead open if it hadn’t been for my friend and supervisor quickly grabbing me by the wrist and yanking me to safety. Usually, though, unless absolutely necessary, those things would be put off a day or so until it was a bit drier. Hopefully, there would be a bit of dessert left over from a baking day and we’d boil another pot of coffee. I can still smell the combination of coffee, fire, food, and wet wool drying by the fire.

There were other buildings in the village where it was lovely to be on a rainy day, such as in the Gristmill. One could spend an entire day in there without seeing anyone except for when you went to have dinner at the farm with everyone. I used to get a lot of reading done on those days, or crochet, or cross stitch. I would sing entire musicals to myself with no one to hear me but the ghosts. I wouldn’t have wanted all the days to be like that, but sometimes, when it had been crazy busy with school children and other visitors for days on end, a quiet, rainy day was delightful.

The temperature will be going up this week and the sun will eventually come out. Greenfield Village will be full of visitors again, as it should be. Geese will be teased, trees will be (illegally) climbed, but most importantly, more people will fall in love with the place, as I and so many others have over the years.

Maybe they’ll learn what I already know: it’s a wonderful place to spend a cold, rainy, day.

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Today, on Facebook, I saw a picture from a wedding. The two who got married are wonderful people and they work for The Henry Ford, one couple of many who met their spouse there. The picture was lovely; it was of all of the people at the wedding who had worked on Firestone Farm, a place near and dear to my heart. It got me thinking about my own wedding, and all of the Firestone Farm people who were there to celebrate that day with us.

When Marty and I got married, twenty-two years ago, I was still a “chicken” on the farm, one of the younger girls. The older ladies adopted us, many of us had “mamas”, and they taught us all that they knew. I hardly knew anything about cooking at all back then, much less cooking on a coal stove, and I definitely made some mistakes. (Helpful tip: Just frying a piece of chicken doesn’t cook it all the way through. You have to put it in the oven, too, or you end up with lovely, crispy skin and raw chicken on the inside.) But I did learn, enough to be a competent cook not only at work, but at home.

For our wedding, one of the gifts we got was a journal, pictured above. The farm folk, both women and men, had passed it around and everyone contributed their favorite recipes.

002.jpgMost of them were favorite recipes that we used on the farm, since we used a variety of cookbooks that were period to the year 1885. Some examples are baking powder biscuits, lemon tarts, and pumpkin jumbles. There were also more modern recipes, too, such as Italian macaroni, sausage and egg brunch, and carrot curry soup. There’s even one page with the phone number to Little Caesar’s!

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I love looking through this book, I always have. Some of the people who contributed have passed away, some I’ve lost contact with, and some I still “see” on social media quite regularly. This cookbook, though, brings those farm days back. It was such a special, happy time in my life. There was a lot of work, a lot of coal smoke, a lot of, well, manure and mud, but we were a family. We danced at each other’s weddings, celebrated new babies, and attended funerals together. For several, wonderful years, it felt like it would always be so. We even joked about making the farm our own country. Of course, it couldn’t last forever, and we could never recreate that time if we tried.

But I have this book, this wonderful, precious book. It’s worn out from use, the spine is gone, I’ve scribbled my own subsequent recipes into it, and it will eventually begin to fall apart, but I love it. One day, I’ll pass it on to whoever shows the most interest in it. Until then, I’ll continue to add more to it, taping it together if necessary, when the cover begins to fall off.

And, of course, I can’t just look through it without making something. A loaf of farm bread is baking in my oven right now, just in time for dinner. I may just use the leftovers to make cheese toast (a Firestone staple) in the morning.

May you remember your own happy times tonight.10398512_1104025886075_7984395_n

 

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I love the show, Mysteries At the Museum, on the Travel Channel. If you haven’t seen it, the show features odd and interesting pieces from museum collections all over the world and the stories behind them. Some of the stories are inspiring, such as the cat who assists the NYC Fire Department, and some are sad or creepy, like haunted houses or lost loves. They’ve even featured items from The Henry Ford, like Thomas Edison’s last breath. (Check it out.)

They’ve branched out a little, too, to focus on historical sites or people. Last night’s episode was all about Pompeii.

To refresh your memory, Pompeii was a city during the Roman Empire near modern day Naples that was completely wiped out by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Because Vesuvius buried the city in layers of volcanic ash, archaeologists are able to understand life back then in a much more complete way. There are actually homes preserved with their original painted walls and mosaics, body casts of the people as they tried to flee, and even bread that had been baking in the oven at the time. There’s also at least one brothel, a very popular tourist attraction. There’s a very long line to get into the brothel these days. I wonder if it was the same 2,000 years ago.

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Pompeii fascinates me, I had the opportunity to actually go there a few years ago, and I was absolutely glued to the television set last night. (Well, I was also running in place in my living room because it’s too freaking cold to go outside, but I was still glued.) When the show was over, it made me think (again) of how much I love anything like Pompeii: old historic sites, and why I took the path I did instead of follow my passion.

I didn’t have a lot of guidance, as a teenager, about what I wanted to do. I loved acting, but it was made clear to me that I would have no support if I went that way and that scared me. History hadn’t come “alive” for me just yet, it was mostly names and dates that I had to memorize, which is a complete shame. Kids hate history because of that and there’s no reason that it can’t be taught in a much better, relatable, way, but I digress.

Beginning with modeling for a dear friend’s period clothing company and through my job at The Henry Ford, I discovered just how much I loved working with the stories and objects of the past, but by then I had been putting myself through community college a class or two at a time for teaching and felt that I would be wasting my money if I switched majors, especially to a field where full-time jobs are scarce and money is uncertain. I stayed on the teaching track because it was safe and predictable. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would become a historian, hands down.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful and happy to have a job in teaching. I worked hard for my degree and will be paying off my student loans for the next thirty years, unless I win the Megamillions or become a best-selling author. That is not an exaggeration; my student loan calculator says so. Teaching pays my bills and it’s (mostly) enjoyable working with kids, but it’s not my passion. History is my passion.

I drool over Dr. Lucy Worsley documentaries. During my prep hour, I turn on some sort of documentary on YouTube while I grade, plan, file, clean, or whatever, to listen to in the background. I read detailed, well-researched biographies and other historical nonfiction whenever I can. My writing is all historically based. I’m obsessed with getting the details right, with giving the people from the past the respect that they deserve. I can get lost in an antique store for hours with the most mundane objects becauseĀ it belonged to someone. Visiting historic sites, especially really old ones in Europe, put me into a state of euphoria. I love decoding, the hows and whys and motivations of people in the past. Ancestry.com is one of my drugs of choice. A theatre friend of mine, who also loves the past, brought in some of his collection for me to see (and hold!) and couple of weeks ago. It’s amazing that a few coins from the Tudor period, a printed piece of vellum from a German psalter, and an eighteenth century periodical could keep me floating for days. Actually, I’m still floating about it all. I would rather roam around a drafty castle in Scotland in the rain than spend a week on a tropical beach. I am, in short, a lost cause.

That also got me to wondering about all of you. Did you follow your passion or did you take the safe route, like I did? How did you decide on your career, your path? I’d love to hear your stories, your reasons why you did what you did to get where you are today. If your career isn’t your passion, what do you do to satisfy that craving?

Life is funny. Sharing is good. Leave your comments here or on FB, Goodreads, and Twitter.

Oh, and if you’re in the middle of this polar vortex, like those of us in Michigan, stay warm.

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