Just a short history lesson: the “pie safe,” or sometimes called the pie cupboard or pie chest, was an invention of the Pennsylvania Dutch in the late 1700s. Of course, the Pennsylvania Dutch were not Dutch at all, but German immigrants who came from “Deutschland” -- or Germany. Anyway, the piece of furniture was invented to do a number of things – it would first of all keep the mice/rats and flies away from the baked good, or other perishables, and it was built with pierced tin panels on the sides and sometimes on the doors. Later on, it would be built with screens, all of which allowed fresh air to move through and keep the perishables from molding or spoiling. It was a great, simple idea, so much so that by the mid-1800s nearly every home in America had one, much like we all have microwaves today.
It was in the 1980s, after Cheri and I were married, that I became fascinated with all things antique. We collected stoneware crocks and early quilts and most everything I could lay my hands on at country auctions and such. Another place for hunting at that time was the big white house that sat unoccupied on Cheri’s folks’ farm, at one time the family home for nearly three generations. After Cheri’s grandmother moved into town, it sat, sagging under the weight of non-use. It seems that when a house stands empty, it almost seems to grow sadder with no one living there, and just continues to fall apart.
In addition to the old house, behind it was the little building known as the summer kitchen. For those of you who never grew up on a farm – like me -- the summer kitchen was exactly that: when it grew too beastly hot, in order to keep the house a bit cooler, the ladies (usually) would go out to the summer kitchen to cook and bake and put up canned goods, knowing they could then go back to the house to serve the food or just have it a bit cooler. Of course, the summer kitchen became a wonderful gathering place for flies and such, which just added to the thrill of preparing meals when it was just too hot to do so. So, you could also expect that inside the summer kitchen, there would be a pie safe, where all the delicious pastries and baked goods would be kept safe and able to cool properly.
The summer kitchen lost much of its use when the stove and oven no longer had to be wood stoves, and the preparation of food could move back into the house. However, the old pie safe remained out there, having been painted over and over again with white paint like everything else inside and outside the kitchen. It was there that I would rummage around, looking for items of age and value to bring back to the new farmhouse. It was around 1987 that I finally focused on the fact that there was a pie safe in the summer kitchen, and I decided to take it on as a project for Cheri’s folks.
I hauled it back to Grand Forks, where we were living, and proceeded to turn the little garage we had into a refinishing shop. It took quite a while to carefully strip off the years and years of paint, and in doing so, I uncovered both the tin panels on the side, and a beautiful spoon carved design on both doors, which were completely hidden under the paint. It was a project of love, as slowly but surely, the safe was exposed as the pretty piece of furniture that would just fit perfectly in a farm home. All newly stained, and finished with tung oil, two drawers on the top and four shelves inside, I hauled it back to the farm, and we settled it into the family room, where it soon became the repository of all of Cheri’s mom’ green depression glass collection. It sat in the house for more than 30 years, until Cheri’s folks moved to town, and the pie safe and green glass went with them.
One of the nice caveats of the refinishing work was Cheri’s folks’ promise that when the day came that they no longer needed the piece, Cheri and I would be given it, for our home.
Last year, as we began to talk with Cheri’s mom about what she was planning to do with all the “stuff” when she no longer needed it, she said that of course we would receive the pie safe, but that we also had to take her entire collection of depression glass as well. Without a moment’s hesitation, we agreed, believing it would be another ten years or so before that would happen.
However, the changing of time happened far more rapidly than we ever dreamed. This last weekend, after the funeral, we went back to the townhouse, and wrapped up the green glass, filling five or six big laundry baskets, while the pie safe was carefully loaded into a brother in law’s truck and transported back here to Fargo. This weekend, we will go back up and get all the glass and a few other items, and bring them to their new home – not a farmhouse, but certainly a place where it will all be cherished and appreciated for the next generation.
I guess that is literally what it means to say that “you can’t take it with you.” Heaven has no need for pie safes and depression glass. In the end, we don’t own anything – it’s a matter of being stewards of what is given into our open hands, and we decide for a time whether to cherish or waste it. Indeed, we will cherish these gifts, not because of their extrinsic value, but more because of the story they tell, of a humble piece of everyday furniture used for decades, and the glassware that was part of so many different family meals and birthdays and holidays. It now belongs to us to care for it all, which we will, and share with our sons, and their wives someday, the story of the pie safe, and the family that brought it to life and use in different ways.
I’ve said it before, but it is critical that we go through life with our eyes open, our imagination fully engaged, and our hearts humbly ready to experience not only what is to come, but also what has been, as we give and receive, as we live and die, and as we love.
Word for the day: pulchritudinous. These 15 letters (!) are pronounced pul-kruh-TOO-di-nuss. Granted, it sure seems like a word created to sound as if you are smarty-pants or something, but it comes from the Latin root, pulcher, which means simply “beautiful.” When something – or usually, someone, and usually, some woman – embodies not only a pretty face and a nice personality, but who is physically attractive, the long-winded complement would be to call her pulchritudinous, although you had better be ready to explain yourself, since the word as it stands gives no hint to someone’s beauty. Apparently, pulchritude is in the eye of the beholder…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.