We traveled to visit friends this weekend to talk over the recent performance of our Sheep-to-Shawl team at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. As discussion waned I took a walk around some out-buildings. One particular structure there has always intrigued me, an old summer kitchen. In the days when cooking was done over a wood-fired cookstove the summer kitchen was used to avoid over-heating the main house. All warm-weather cooking, canning, and perhaps laundry was done there. I once wrote the following about an old barn which lies on the Susquehanna flood plain within a few miles of Pairodox, “Each year, after harvest, this solitary structure emerges from the crops which shielded it from view. I delight in watching how the lights of sunrise and sunset illuminate and reveal its character. I enjoy imagining the animals it may have housed, the feed it may have protected from the elements, and the machinery it perhaps harbored from the snows of winter and the flood waters of spring time. The structure, revealed, speaks of rest and rejuvenation after a long season of hard, productive, work. This rest is important and every bit as much a part of the yearly cycle of events as spring rains and summer sunshine.” Every time I see this summer kitchen the same sorts of thoughts run through my mind. How many meals has its now sagging walls surrounded? How much history, expressed in human generations, has it weathered? What did it observe of the lives of so many that worked the surrounding fields? The building now sits and is subject to the inexorable pull of entropy, if you look closely it lists to the east. Its siding is weathered and some of its windows are long absent. If it could speak it might recount stories only known as fragments by those still with us who have heard them.
There was a summer kitchen on our place when we first arrived. It was to the north-east, only a few feet from the house. It was quite old and deep with the sediment of birds, rodents, and other transitory inhabitants for which the aging structure provided shelter from summer heat and winter wind. We thought it would do nicely as a chicken house and tried to move it (closer to a source of water) at a time when we were not yet fully schooled in such things. The structure collapsed, in transit, as we tried to negotiate a small gully. It was beyond repair so we burned it in place. I’ve always regretted its loss. It would have been nice to have been able to resurrect the structure and to wonder about its history, meals prepared, lives lived and lost, and lessons we have yet to learn. Old buildings intrigue me and I wonder whether they have anything akin to a soul. I believe that they do and that this is something we all have felt when within the confines of these structures. If it can be said that structures have character, then perhaps is it this that we wish to rekindle and come to know when we renovate? There has been much reward in renovation for us. We have done so for our home and for a number of pieces of farm machinery. On a practical level, renovation has often been our only option when funds were unavailable to do otherwise. On another level, however, we have always been pleased to have been able to make like-new. There is a very old saying in the family which shows how it is that we have adopted this attitude: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Next time you think about throwing something out and buying a new one, do yourself and the earth a favor and consider making like-new.