Passing on family history

My grandchildren had volunteered to help me with a few things this summer. Last Thursday I took them up on it. I picked up my daughter’s two children and brought them home with me. We dug right in. Originally I thought I’d have them help me wash my cupboards, but in the end we cleaned the shelf in the kitchen and the top of my step-back cupboard.

I chose the latter because that involves a lot of climbing up and down and young legs were certainly helpful. We had no sooner started on the big kitchen shelf when my grandson began to ask questions. He found many things that he did not recognize. Let me back up here and tell you that I keep things that I personally treasure on both of the surfaces that we were cleaning.

The things I keep there are not necessarily monetarily valuable, but they hold memories for me. Among my treasures are two little trucks that belonged to my husband. He bought one of them and I gave him the other as a gift. I think they were special to him because he always wanted to own one of those old style trucks but never did. My grandson found a model name and number on one of the trucks.

Then, there is my Bayberry Express. That is a little train that my husband gave me one Christmas. Dick knew that I loved trains so when he saw this little train he bought it for my display. I think maybe it was the same year that he finished the shelf in the kitchen.

I also have a gallon jug for milk. It is plain glass and used to have a cardboard cover. I remember my aunt and uncle taking a bottle like this to the farm where they purchased milk. The farmer filled the jug and we were on our way. Little did I know then that I would end up living on a dairy farm.

We had a small metal milk can that traveled back and forth to/from the farm with our family’s milk supply. Our children liked the raw milk better than any bought at a store.

There were some small wooden boxes. I explained to the children that Velveeta cheese used to be packaged like that. There is also a half-gallon carton from Walker’s IXL ice cream. I got that during our township’s bicentennial when I interviewed the Walker family about the dairy that was part of our history. My father-in-law used to send his milk there. When we wanted ice cream we put in an order and it was delivered to the farm packed in dry ice.

Another item that I treasure is an early electric toaster. I picked this one up at a yard sale. I knew what it was because my grandmother used to have one and we took it to camp. Hers had a cord that could be removed, but my model is hard-wired. It was very handy in the years when I camped at the fair and my husband stayed home. He had his toaster and I had mine. I was tired of charred bread cooked over my gas burner in the camper.

That toaster really captured the attention of my helpers. They wanted to see how it worked so I put in two slices of bread and made them each a slice of toast. My granddaughter commented that the old model worked faster than the one that they use all the time. We did have to turn each slice of bread over to have it toasted on both sides though.

They had a new appreciation for the things on grandma’s shelf as we put things back into place.

The top of the cupboard brought the same response. The children wondered why I had a tin canister for Red Man tobacco and White Owl cigars. I told them grandpa found those for me on one of his trips. When he and my son stopped near Hop Bottom, PA they visited an antique place. My husband found several treasures for my shelf.

My husband had a globe of his own. He told me he received it as a gift one Christmas. That has a place of honor on my cupboard. The grandchildren and I have used it many times to locate some place around the globe. Although country names have changed the oceans and continents have not changed their names or locations. They also learned about latitude and longitude by using the globe. I also taught them my little trick about remembering the placement of the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Since the Tropic of Capricorn has more letters it is heavier. It sinks below the equator.

We also found the old abacus. I must admit I do not really know how to use the abacus to add, but it was a wonderful tool to teach the young ones how to count. We counted off the beads by tens, by fives, by twos, and by ones. Of course the abacus has one hundred beads. They loved moving those colorful beads back and forth as we counted to one hundred. All of them knew the number combinations before they ever entered school. They learned at grandma’s house on the abacus and it was fun.

That afternoon I did not plan to teach a history lesson, but that is what happened. It took us longer than we planned but now the children understand many things they never would have known. When we came to the cream top bottle I explained about those old jersey milk bottles. I told them how the cream rose to the top. I showed them my little spoon that fits exactly in the rim of the bottle so that the cream could be removed to make whipped cream.

I am sure they will not forget the things they learned because when you manipulate things you remember better.

Someday soon we will continue the cleaning session. I want them to help me with the china cupboard. They will find many interesting things there as well. It was a good day for grandma and for the youngsters.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at