Hoosier Cabinet with Parlour Palm and other decor

Tales Of A Hoosier

Had a little chat with Fred earlier, reassured him it’d only be another month or so till he can go outside. Turned his grow light on, spritzing his leaves with chamomile Tea infused spray, and assured him I was aware of the confines of his current pot. And, lovely as his beautiful limey yellow IKEA pot is, he has outgrown it.

Now, given that he stands 6′ tall, is 3′ wide and has been in his current 15″ pot for, geesh, 10, maybe 15 years? Tis time.

Fred The Ficus from above

Fred is a Ficus Benjamina, so they are rather tolerant of being a bit cramped. In their native land, India I believe, they are used as street trees. So, yes, given that, they are very tolerant of drought, and many things that would kill off a lesser tree than he.

The light and spritzing is just a little treat, as I explained to him, hopefully we can get him a new pot this spring, maybe summer, but definitely this year.

I love Fred. I mean, we’ve been together for closing on 25 years now, and without his lush green beauty my many abodes, temporary as they are, would have been lifeless. Personally, I find rooms without plants a bit dreary. Plants always give rooms life and breath, and without them become too show-roomy.

Well, and none would accuse my decorating style as lifeless and show-roomy. Good grief. My things have provenance, lofty or lowly, many have tales to tell, and memories drift from many a treasure. Some new, many old, vintage or antique, a minimalist I am not.

prov·e·nance

  1. the place of origin or earliest known history of something.
    “an orange rug of Iranian provenance”

Oh, the tales even my inanimate objects tell. Like, for instance, my free-standing kitchen cabinet of American origin. In this case, a family heirloom. Passed down to me via my Great Aunt Helen, my Grandmas sister, on my mom’s side. It sits in my kitchen, just across from where I write these words, I can reach out and touch it the room is so narrow.

Hoosier Cabinet detail of tin label

It is grand, and tall, filled with flour & herbs & spice on the top, to recycling and odds and sods stuffed in the draws.

I’m surrounded by stories, of my family, of times, places. Yes, even my plants have stories.

Actually, Fred as well was passed through a sister, mine. As she had tossed it out back of her than apartment, Fred’s next step was to the dump.

So, Fred was a rescue.

And, in many ways, so was that cabinet. It’s called a Hoosier, and this is one of the originals, manufactured in New Castle, Indiana.

Advertised back in the day as a modern convenience, a step saver, with tin lined drawers and spice rack shelves, flour sifter, counter, even some with a laundry board, made of oak, pine and later enamel. This one has a flour sifter and zinc counter, and years ago when I opened the little thingy where the flour came out, there was still flour in it. Left over I would imagine from my Great Grandma, so 60 or so year old flour.

Back in my married days, my ex and I only had to remove some of my great Aunts trees at the side, and she was going to give us this cabinet. Mom was very excited, as my Aunt had no room for it, and therefore it sat in the garage. Not really her thing, I guess, as Aunt Helen was more Chippendale than Hoosier, bone china and real silver spoons for her.

Before she would let us have it, though, she proceeded to tell us its provenance, and explained we should attach a little card at the back with it, as it would add to its value.

writing on inside of door of Hoosier
writing on inside of door of top section… “imataic in milk”… or something like that.

I mean, its actually kind of painful to part with stuff, you know? Like old homesteads that have been in the family for well over 100 years, we are long haulers, thrifty, traditional, wood grains of oak and maple, old squeaky farmhouse floor boards, and dining room tables where generations of our ancestors have gathered for many a feast sort of people.

Oh, the stories that old table could tell.

But I digress.

So, the Hoosier apparently came to our family via a neighbour who lived down the road from them, the Eagles. They grew up at the Middlesex/Oxford Township line, and all 5 of them went to primary school in a little one roomer down the road in a hamlet called Banner. That school house is still there, now owned by a family friends daughter and family. They said they found their names carved somewhere in the place, now cherished graffiti.

Anywho, the story goes I guess that the Eagles were upgrading their kitchen to the newfangled built-in cabinets, and so Great Grandma Calvert bought it off them. I’m assuming this would have been late 30s, early 40s, as built-ins became the style first in the early 30s.

The cabinet looks to be one of the earliest models, which means it dates back I suppose to around the turn of the century, maybe 1910ish?

The emergence and popularity of the Hoosier cabinet correspond with changes in society taking place a century ago, especially with regard to the woman’s role and domestic life. In the post-Civil War era, women trying to function in smaller urban quarters without servants turned to a steady stream of technological advances for the home. The compact efficiency of the Hoosier cabinet appealed to the turn-of-the-century homemaker, and the Hoosier Manufacturing Company turned out at least 600 a day.

Hoosier Manufacturing was but one of the many who built and sold these multi-use freestanding pieces. And, much like how we now call facial tissue Kleenex, the name Hoosier came to denote all cabinets of this sort.

Fun fact: the top part detaches from the bottom, you remove the counter piece, and its easy(er) to move.

When my marriage was over, and I was moving out, as my dad and brother-in-law where heaving the top part onto the bottom at my new place, I heard the cling and clatter of bottles coming from the top part.

Oopsy… I had been in such a state of anxiety at leaving our marital home, I forgot to take the liquor bottles out.

A happy mistake, as my girlfriend who I was moving in with, well, we got right drunk on mixed cocktails that eve.

If I’m remembering this correctly, earlier that year we had purchased a bunch of liqueurs for mixed drinks, I guess hoping being plastered would save our marriage.

That piece of furniture has over the years been used in many ways, it held my cloths, it has been a liquor cabinet, back when Aunt Helen had it a place to store old paint and other crap. Finally, now, once again after many years, it is once again in a kitchen. It truly is a wonderfully versatile piece of furniture.

And, so it goes. Things have stories, memories attached, bits of, scraps of, little pieces of our life. Of ancestors, voices from our past whisper, happy or sad, I love things that have a rich provenance. I suppose it grounds me, tea towel in the wind I once could be, or so mom always said.

No longer flitting about, I’m rather grounded at the moment.

And, certainly not always knowing where I would land, but I always land. A heavy landing, for sure, considering all that I drag along with me. You know, old trees and cabinets, and such.

A study commissioned in 1920 by the U.S. Department of Commerce found that use of such a workstation could save the American housewife over 1500 of the 2000-plus steps she took in her kitchen every day. “After these amazing discoveries,” an ad in the Ladies Home Journal read, “no woman will end another day footsore and weary. None will endure the distressing fatigue of kitchen work any longer.”

Excerpts from:
Moments of Indiana History – Hoosier Cabinet

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