I am now working the summer schedule for Old World Wisconsin. I am still at St. Peter’s Church playing the pump organ and singing to the rafters on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I am also working at the Hafford house on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Mary Hafford was an Irish immigrant who came to the U.S. with her husband and son, living first in New Jersey and then settling in Wisconsin where she had family members who had also moved there. She had two more children here, and then, at the age of 36, she was widowed. Her husband had worked on the railroad and owned no land or property. She could neither read nor write. Somehow, she had assets (possibly from a railroad company’s pension plan?) amounting to $500, twice the average for the village where she lived. She spent $150 to buy two lots in a rural village where she had been renting lodgings. Presumably, there was a dwelling on that lot, a worker’s cottage. She took in laundry and did the washing, ironing, and mending from her home so that she could look after her children. By the time she was 53, in the year 1885, she was able to hire carpenters to upgrade her house to a more respectable cottage. This home is the one that is now on Old World Wisconsin property, right next to St. Peter’s Church. It has one large room (combination kitchen, dining room, living room) with a small bedroom and a pantry on the ground floor and two bedrooms upstairs. It has a kitchen garden in which is growing lavender, sage, rosemary, alpine strawberries, thyme, and other fragrant herbs. The wash tubs and clothesline are set up outside so that visitors (kids, mostly) can try their hand at washing without electricity or plumbing. The laundering process in the 19th century could take up 3 days of the week. For Mrs. Hafford, it would probably be 6 days a week. Soaking, boiling, spot treating with lye soap, scrubbing on the washboard and rinsing would require multiple trips to the pump with two large buckets. One article estimated that women carried 400 lbs. of water in a week for laundry. After the clothes were dry, she would heat the irons on her wood stove and press them. One of the irons we have weighs 6 lbs, though it’s only about 5 inches long. I get the feeling this woman had no need for a gym membership. She pumped iron, literally, at home often enough! So this is the story I interpret for visitors. When there are no guests to chat with, I sit in the rocker and crochet rag rugs. I just learned this skill last week. I pass the time wondering what it would be like to be unable to read and write. Yesterday was my first day in this position. Sorry I didn’t post a blog entry, friends, I was just too tired and hungry and out of time by the end of my day! Here are some photos to whet your appetite. More to come!
Today was my last day as the historic interpreter at the Schottler house at Old World Wisconsin. I’m going to miss Stud Muffin, the young male pig, and watching him grow fat. He still hasn’t figured out how to go outside…up one little ramp and down another on the other side…who said pigs were smart? I am going to miss the smell of cabbage roses and camomile in the garden. I will miss stringing rhubarb up to dry and making rhubarb pie. Oh! I have to tell you that the rhubarb pie I made DID get eaten after all, at least partially. They cut out a slice to display on a plate with a fork and some school group chaperone ate it while the interpreter was making sure the 45 kids running around didn’t break anything! I am satisfied that it was not too runny, as my objective was to improve upon the last display pie that was baked. And my darling daughter, the Approximate Chef, has told me that she whipped up some rhubarb and ginger sherbet the other day. She sent this photo along to share:
Today was a gorgeous day, though. Plenty of time for slowing down, too. One of the school groups was an hour late, so they skipped my area entirely. The other school group was 3 groups of only 9 kids, so it felt quite leisurely not to be herding 30 kids at one time. That meant that I could sit on the porch sewing, enjoying the quiet during the off hours. Three photographers with tripods and bunches of gear came by and snapped away. The Schottler farm is a still life paradise, really. And so monochrome friendly! Although the delphiniums in full bloom definitely deserve color.
I’ll be a Villager next, five days a week. At Mary Hafford’s house, I do get a kitchen garden with lavender, sage, thyme, and rosemary. And I need to learn how to crochet rag rugs. It’ll be fun. Too bad I don’t know any welcoming phrases in Irish!
Guess what I made today in the wood stove at Old World Wisconsin? Rhubarb pie! First time I’ve ever made it and first time I’ve ever used a wood burning oven. It’s a display pie, meaning no one is going to eat it. The crust was a tad dark on one side, but it looked pretty good. I have no idea how runny or crunchy the inside is. Maybe someone will cut into it tomorrow. It was lovely just sitting by the wood-burning stove, keeping toasty in the 50 degree rainy weather, smelling the pie bake and hemming handmade linen towels. We didn’t have many visitors, so I felt like I was having a cozy day in my own little corner of the 19th century, by myself. Nice work, if you can get it, I think.
So now that I’m back home, I’ve got to figure out if there’s something I can whip up for dinner in this century. Plus, I’ve got 3 days of dirty dishes in the sink to wash. Domestic bliss. For your entertainment, let me showcase a guest photographer: Steve. He took this shot while we were hiking on the Ice Age Trail on Monday.
I’m anticipating the arrival of my middle daughter for a sleep over visit. I have done the dishes, swept and mopped the kitchen floor, changed the sheets and made the bed. My 21st century house is maybe about 75 years old. The houses I help keep up at my Old World Wisconsin job are about 135 years old. What remains constant about hospitality? The desire to provide a degree of comfort out of respect for another person. The pride of being able to offer, no matter how humble, an invitation to share what you have with another person, be it space, warmth, food, shelter, peace or love. “For it is in giving that you shall receive.”
I am enjoying a sense of maturity in my ideas about homemaking, a sense of seasoning. As a young wife and mother, I was extremely anxious about entertaining. I felt that everyone who walked through my front door was judging me. I was sure that I wasn’t doing things the “right” way and that everyone could tell that I was faking being a “good” mother. I hardly ever had the sense that people who visited me were actually interested in enjoying time with me. I suppose you could just label that “low self-esteem”. So what does self-esteem have to do with hospitality? Perhaps it’s simply that until you esteem yourself, it’s hard to know how to esteem someone else, or until you know how to be comfortable in your own skin, it’s hard to know how to help another person be comfortable in his or hers. That’s what I want to be able to offer my guests: a place where they can be at peace with themselves, with me, and with their surroundings. A place to experience welcome and contentment — home and hearth.