Our dining table was made by hand from a single plank of thick pine by an anonymous Yankee at least 200 years ago. It eventually, as all things inevitably must, washed up on Craigslist where I stumbled across it. I then managed to convince Denyse to drive extremely far in the middle of a snow storm to help me collect it in a rented car that was so small that we had to slide it between the front seats to get it home. Luckily, my table was made in a rare style that I believe antiquarians would call “Early American Tinker Toy”, with peggish legs that can be put in and out of place easily (but sometimes with a bit of squeaky twisting), otherwise Denyse would have had to lie down between them in the back of the car on the way home, which would have made it much more difficult for her to push cookies into my mouth and to distract me from the cars that kept sliding of the road in front of us as I drove home at 32 miles per hour in a blinding sleet. I love that it has no nails or glue. When we set it up in our dining room I looked at TC and said: “This thing will last forever”. Still raw from the recent loss of his prized but wrecked-with-petrified-cheese toaster oven, he nodded sadly, eyes closed.
I like to imagine my great great great great great (great? great? great?) grandfather having made a table just like this one. He lived for quite some time in a cave, according to the Scituate Rhode Island history books, which also claim that he “fought off wolves” (the original tenants of said cave, I’m guessing) and walked into town for flour and whiskey monthly. On one of these walks he convinced a neighboring girl from a nice family to marry him and move into his cave with him, so obviously he must have had a very nice table, and since we know that he wasn’t into nails or glue (see “lived in cave”, above), it was probably a lot like mine.
This is the most amazing thing, to me, about being an American: That each and every one of us can trace ourselves, through one branch of family or another, to someone who was exceptionally brave in the face of poverty, wilderness, or war. One of your relatives, odds would have it, made their own dining table, chopped their own wood, grew their own food, walked miles into town for hootch and other necessities on a semi-regularly basis, and managed to avoid being eaten by bears or wolves while doing so at least long enough to procreate. Another of your sturdy lineage likely grew entirely self reliant through the Great Depression, sewed all of her own clothes, mangled a chicken or two by hand, brewed her own moonshine, and survived long enough to humiliate you by wringing out her tea bag and putting it back into her purse during your wedding reception. Things have gotten much more convenient, to be sure. My mother certainly doesn’t have to make her own liquor. She does so anyway, with mixed and sometimes permanent results, but you get the point. We all have it somewhere within us, as my niece would say, to DEAL. To make do. To get by with what we’ve got. We all have that in common.
My grandmother, an American by choice rather than by birth, makes an annual batch of baklava with a nut-grinder that has survived three wars, fifty-five christmas cookie seasons, 7 daughter in laws, and a (alleged) clepto-maniac next door neighbor without as much as dulled blades. My uncle has his grandmothers blender, which I covet to the point of threatening, unless he leaves it to me, to announce at his funeral that he regularly wore womens underpants. He and his blender will likely survive me, but I need to cover my bases. You could make a soup out of forks with that thing. So why is it that I have just thrown out a toaster oven that was just a few years old?
They have this stuff because it was meant to last a lifetime. Their generation survived the last miserable round of depression and recession, and forever afterwards made careful purchases. They bought things that were meant to last forever. Its these things that, especially lately, I am obsessed with: Those american brands that grew out of and long survived eras of depression and woe, that survived wars and natural disasters and a population that consumed nut-grinders at a rate of one per half century, and they are still here today. How Inspiring.
My list of favorites is as follows.... and I would really love to hear your favorites too.
I first came to love Sees Candies shortly after moving back to California at the age of 23. A San Francisco Icon, Sees has a kiosk at the airport there. I became so accustomed to eating a half a box of dark chocolate caramels between unboarding and baggage claim that it got to the point that the sound of any pilots voice announcing any descent into any city would make me drool a little bit. My favorite thing about Sees is that it was a company born during the depression, yet thrived. There is always a place in the budget for chocolate, I suppose.
(pictured above) I have had two pairs of Frye boots in my lifetime, both continue to look better with age. Some of their styles are made overseas, but the classic Campus and harness styles are still made here in the US. I am not sure what it is about these boots. Western without being country, bold without insisting upon themselves. They hold their own in almost every social situation. I've wore them to dinner in Mexico, drinks in the West Village, and while shopping for a vintage cowboy shirt in Santa Fe, and never once felt like an imposter. I felt that way even before I knew that these boots were worn by both Union and Confederate soldiers during the civil war, and by those wagon train wives and their families when they pushed west. They are truly a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll... but aren't we all?
I have always loved Pendleton blankets, even more so now that I have seen their recent special edition design based on a painting by American artist Fritz Scholder. These blankets are incredibly warm, really beautiful, and come on about a million patterns and colors. The baby blankets make an especially wonderful gift. Fritz Scholders amazing paintings are on display in both NY and DC this winer, and really worth the trek.
My Kitchenaid mixer is not only the prettiest thing about my kitchen, its also the most useful tool I own. With it I can make pizza dough or bread without taking my rings off, thanks to the dough hook that kneads and kneads and kneads..... And these things do last forever. I gave my sister a vintage one and it works perfectly, even though the guy I bought it from claims it sat in his garage for twenty years “makin’ spiders happy”.