The Stirring Spoon

By Kim Seeley

The Stirring Spoon

When I think of today’s throwaway, disposable society with the recent interest in reducing one’s carbon footprint, I cannot help but believe that in many ways my mother-in-law, whom we called Granny, was a few decades ahead of her time. Granny was a product of the Depression, and she grew up with the dictum, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” She followed this philosophy her entire life.

Granny saw nothing unusual in her lifestyle. She was brought up on a farm on which very little was wasted. When her daddy had hog killings, they used to say they used all of the parts of a hog “except for the squeal.” Her family ate what they grew, with occasional trips into town to buy staples such as sugar and flour. They visited a nearby mill to grind their corn, and Granny and her mother churned their own butter.

When she married, she taught her daughters to churn butter. She made her daughters’ dresses out of the feed bags that her husband purchased to feed the livestock. Sometimes she would show him which material she needed so that she could finish a certain dress. She picked, froze, canned and pickled vegetables most of the summer so that her family could enjoy them all winter. Her sweet pickles are a cherished memory, and there is not a store brand that could come close to her recipe.

Granny did not believe in throwing things out that might be of use, yet she was not a pack-rat. Her house was so neat and clean that it sparkled, and she saw her house as a reflection of her own values and love for her family. In the living room closet, however, there resided crayons, story books and games that had belonged to her children, kept for future generations to enjoy. My own children loved to read the same books Granny had read to their daddy, particularly Bad Mousie, and to play with the ancient Tiddly-Winks and Mr. Potato Head games. As a young mother, I offered to replace the old crayons with shiny new Crayolas, but Granny saw nothing wrong with the stubs of crayons, and her grandchildren never seemed to mind them.

She was recycling in a sense before the term came into the popular vernacular. She entertained both of my daughters with Sears and Roebuck’s catalogs. Granny and granddaughter would cut and paste pictures from the catalog onto construction paper, making collages on various topics. Sometimes my daughter would come home with her overnight suitcase packed full of clippings from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. My daughter loved this activity as much as every shiny new toy advertised on television before Christmas. She is now thirty years old, but she still has the treasured overnight bag.

Granny would hang plastic zippered bags on a hook over the sink. If the contents had not been too potent, she would rinse the bag out, let it dry and use it again. For a person who never heard the term, “carbon footprint,” Granny’s sense of waste-not, want-not, made her a thoughtful citizen of the world before it became the fashion.

Granny used the same pots and pans her entire married life. Some credit must be given to the manufacturers of the well-used soup pots, frying pans and sauce pans because few of today’s pots could have withstood the heavy use Granny demanded of them for nearly sixty years. Granny used those pots and pans to feed as many as ten to twelve people every Sunday, and Granny’s Sunday dinners were the equivalent of some people’s holiday feasts.

A few of her pots and pans began to show some age, and a well-meaning daughter-in-law offered a replacement at Christmas, but the shiny new pot would be returned or pushed to the back of the cabinet. “What do I need this for?” Granny would ask. “There’s nothing wrong with my old sauce pan.” We would sigh and exchange knowing glances, having been defeated once again in the battle to update Granny’s kitchen.

The one item in the kitchen that spoke most strongly of Granny’s reluctance to part with her old possessions was the stirring spoon. When I married into the family, the spoon was already worn down on one side; only the top part of the spoon still maintained the oval shape. At the time of her death, it had literally been stirred into half a spoon. When I first saw it, I innocently asked Granny, “Would you like a new set of stirring spoons for Christmas?”

“No, I don’t need a new spoon.” Granny was adamant. There was nothing wrong with that spoon or any of her others. In fact, all of her kitchen possessions were just fine. As a matter of fact, everything she owned was just fine, in her opinion, which made her the hardest person to shop for in the entire world. Other than a housedress from Sears, bought according to her specific instructions, I don’t believe I ever bought her anything in my married life that she truly needed or even wanted.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from the stirring spoon. To her family, that spoon represented hours and hours of labor, cooking and feeding her hungry brood. It also represented the effort she made to keep her family close. There is nothing like sitting down to eat with each other on a Sunday afternoon to keep those lines of communication open.

In a time of economic upheaval and hardship, we could all practice a little more frugality. Perhaps we could all use a few more Sunday dinners with the family. We might each learn a lesson from Granny, a product of the Depression, who made things “do,” even a long-handled stirring spoon.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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One Response to “The Stirring Spoon”

  1. diana thompson says:

    Kim, just wanted to say, your Granny and my mother (called Granny by everyone) sound like they could have been twins. My mother had 13 (thirteen) children (I was the13th) and we lived a similar life; only buying what was necessary and doing with and without; not knowing we were poor. Just want to tell you, you were as lucky as I to know ladies as great as these. Thank you for your story. Diana

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