Pickin' in Pa by Ellen Geisel: What would an antique dough bowl say?

Dough bowl
Dough bowl

If only antiques could talk. What wonderful things they would say! The history and mysteries of our families would come alive again! Do you have any family heirlooms that have been passed down from generation to generation? Have you picked up a wonderful old antique in a store and often wondered where it came from? Do you ever wonder just what that antique would say if it could talk? It might go something like this:

ďItís been a fine Spring after an exceptionally cold Winter for North Carolina. Many of my friends were cut down this Winter by the humans that live nearby. My friends were used mostly for firewood. I could see the smoke rising above my limbs and could smell that sweet smell of burning maple wafting through my leaves. Some other friends were cut down and used to make furniture and bowls. But for now, I still stand, tall and strong.

Summer has arrived. I see a group of men coming towards me with their sharp axes. Perhaps it is now my time to help the people who live in the area. I wonder what will become of me? The sharp axes pierce my bark and cut into my flesh. I am now falling, falling. The ropes are tied to my trunk and hooked to the horses and we are now moving through the woods.

In the settlement, I am cut into small pieces. The man has now taken a part of me that is especially nice and split me in half. He is now carving and carving and shaping and shaping. I am slowly becoming a wonderful dough bowl! Now I am excited to know that I will be of help to these people to help feed them and not just burnt for firewood!


I have now been taken to one of the homes. It seems that the woman is very excited to have me! She immediately puts flour and water in me and rolls the mixture into a ball. She places a cloth over top of me. I can feel the ball of dough getting warmer and warmer and grow in size. Soon, the woman comes back to knead the ball again.

Many seasons have come and gone now. Iíve had more dough balls in my belly than I can count. It seems that this day, there is more excitement in the house than usual. Many items have been taken out of the house. The woman picks me up and gently hangs me on a hook in a covered wagon. I wonder where we are going?

Soon the horses start to move the heavy wagon. We are on our way. The wagon is very full with furniture, clothing, food and of course the man and woman and their ten children. The journey is slow. Each night, I am used to make the bread to feed this hungry group; then gently hung back on my hook. After many weeks of rugged roads filled with mud, rainy days and restless children, I hear the man say we have finally arrived in New Castle County.

Many more years have passed since that journey in the wagon. I now belong to the youngest of the 10 children and his wife uses me to roll the dough. Iím not used as much, though. It seems that bread now comes from other places. The woman just gave me to her granddaughter. This young woman loves me just as much, but doesnít use me for dough any longer. Instead, she puts potpourri in my belly, which smells wonderful! Iím glad that after 150 years, I can still be useful!Ē

While this story, obviously, is fictional, it is based on the history of a hand-carved dough bowl that traveled in a covered wagon from North Carolina to New Castle County, Delaware in the 1880s when my grandfather was just a baby. My family was one of the Quaker families that moved from North Carolina to Delaware. While itís nice to know the history of a family heirloom, the next time you are out picking through an antique shop, take a look at an item and let yourself imagine what that item would say to you - if it could only talk.

Ellen Geisel lives in Cambridge, PA and owns Barkerís Grove Antiques in White Horse. She loves antiques and loves the history behind each and every antique that comes through the door!