At first glance you might say this is a pot not even fit for a garage sale. It is missing its handle, it’s full of scrapes and dents, and it’s not even flat on the bottom. Clearly it’s seen better days.
There’s more to this story though. This pot is not just any pot. My mother-in-law used this pot to feed her five boys and husband real mashed potatoes for dinner many nights piping hot on the table at 7pm. They rarely missed a meal together, and it was her responsibility to pull everything together. This is something I can’t do two days in a row. She’s done it for, like, six decades.
One day my husband brought this pot home and put on the counter. At first, I thought it was just a bowl for the dogs, but Brad washed it up and put it in the cabinet with the other pots and pans. I never thought much of it until Brad started using it. We have other pots in the cabinet twenty years newer, but for some reason this one makes it to the stovetop. Honestly, it’s kind of a pain to use. There’s no handle, so we have to hang on to it with a pot holder, and since the bottom isn’t flat, it takes longer to heat water. If we stir too fast, the bowl spins. Yet, we still reach past other pots for this one.
It’s because of what it means. It’s the pot used to pull a family together. It’s the pot used to make real food. And it’s the pot that’s been around for more than 50 years, I bet. Isn’t there something to respect in that? I think so.
Historical artifacts speak to me. They tell stories of history and remind me of a life long ago, one that I sometimes wish I could see for a day.
I picked this as one of my artifacts for a class I’m teaching, Social Studies Methods. It’s an artifact that tells a story. The story of a large, busy farming family that was careful with what they had. The story of home-cooked meals where the family sat down together. If I were to use this in a classroom with children, I would tell the story of this simple mashed potato pot, but then I’d use it to…
- write poetry from the perspective of a tired farmer
- research farming in Wisconsin, maybe even Grant county in the early 1900s
- share family traditions and how culture has evolved
- research immigration into Grant county in the early 1800s
- write stories from the perspective of a child growing in up on the Brogley farm
- interview elders for similar stories
- create recordings of oral histories talking about growing up
Everyone has artifacts like this. Open your cabinets. Look around. Even the most insignificant items tell stories and reveal culture. Acknowledging those artifacts tags them with meaning that was always there, but once noticed, they come something more — a symbol. Suddenly a roughed up pot becomes a family heirloom.