childhood, family, motherhood

The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker

As I was standing in the kitchen early this morning making Sunday Breakfast, I was thinking about something. It started with bacon, as I was laying out odd pieces as neatly as I could to bake them. We’re having monkey bread and baked bacon, and eggs for those who want them (the First Reader). One of my new routines is this rising early on a Sunday, when no-one else is awake, and starting off with a breakfast for my family, knowing that during the week it will be quick things grabbed as they walk out the door. But the bacon was being recalcitrant.

You see, we buy bacon cheaply, because we get the oddball slices (and thickly cut, too!) that wouldn’t work in a package for full retail. Americans (and maybe others, too, but this I can say with a certainty) do not like to be reminded of where their meat came from. They want uniformity, and conformity. A bacon slice should look just so. Some of the slices I was handling today betrayed their origin as belly fat of a pig, and that would never do. Also, as I found, they tend to fold up and not want to lie flat on the rack.

I’ve been a butcher. I know exactly what these limp bits of flesh were, once. I’ve scratched the back of a pig one day, and put a bullet in her brain the next. No drama, just food. I’m not huge on the need to be connected to our food, but I do wonder sometimes if I am shortchanging my kids when I say I’m not having livestock when we settle on a larger place. I don’t know how much they remember of the butchering process, and it wasn’t something I had them helping with. I did learn butchering at an early age. Chickens, when I was about seven. But my kids will only have dim memories of where the bacon comes from.

Baking, on the other hand… because about there, in musing about being a butcher, the phrase from the nursery rhyme floated to the top of my mind. The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker. I’ve been all three. Many of my readers here are familiar with my baking efforts, and those I can easily pass on to my children. It may not seem like much of a gift, but the smell of fresh bread, the ability to take cookies to a friend, the cake for a child’s birthday… in sum it is a considerable accomplishment for them to be able to claim.

And that last, the most old-fashioned of all. Food is forever, candles have been replaced by Light Emitting Diodes in bulbs shaped like something the coming generation may not remember much at all, and the generation after that? Who knows. I’ve made candlesticks, not pretty, but serviceable. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again, but I can look back and say “I did that.” I’ve also made candles, for that matter, hand-dipping into hot beeswax and watching the layers build up slowly into slim pairs of tapers. Neither is a skill I will pass on to my children, because there is no need for it. I made candlesticks in a medium I have (reluctantly) given up, knowing that I can’t afford the time, money, and energy to accomplish all the things I can do. The candles were part of the living history my father took part in, which I have left behind.

So now, what I must do is take stock of the skills I have, and choose some to pass on to my children. They will pick some up on their own, undoubtedly. I know I did. The First Reader (who has also the titular skillset) will teach them. More than skills, I think passing on the willingness to learn, to get your hands dirty – really dirty, not just clean garden soil – and the desire to do things… that’s the best gift they can be given. And it’s not one I can just say ‘do this‘ it is one we have to demonstrate to them. So I rise early, baking, and the First Reader takes off without a complaint when a friend calls for help late at night. I throw myself into homework with enthusiasm and show them what I’m working on. The First Reader treks off to work before they get up in the morning and comes home at their dinnertime exhausted. Day by day, we are teaching them, directly and indirectly. I can only hope it’s enough.

1 thought on “The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker

  1. Pigs.
    We have friends that farm for a living. For a while they also raised pigs.
    Oddly for a Philly city resident, my experiences now include preparing the pig for a pig roast.
    My track record of one shot kills on pigs is zero. I am thinking it might be because the brain of pig is the size of the brain of a progressive, and that is a very small target indeed.
    And I know from experience that the butchering job is as much hands in, as hands on.

    Much of my skills in working with my hands came from my father, he taught by involving me in the jobs. A very early memory is the smell of hot oil because my job was to use the oil can as he drilled holes in some metal.

    It was only years late that I learned how gifted a teacher he was.

    We joked in the family about Dad’s hobbies. And as I look back I see now that every hobby involved working with his hands to make something real. Whether it was leather working, home repair, car repair, or building Pennsylvania long rifles.
    I remember when he came home with jam making supplies and a lot of peaches. His first attempt at peach jam did not set.
    When asked about the failure he looked over and said with his dry wit and deadpan expression, “that is because I was not making jam, I was making ice cream topping.” Dad delivered several teaching moments in that one sentence and I did not realize it until years later.

    Thank you for helping me remember some very good memories.

    Passing on skills is a great way to preserve those skills, and to build bonds.

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