Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Urban Homestead Series: The History of a Tool

"Have thy tools ready. God will find thee work."
~Charles Kingsley

Take a look at this beauty. Check out those smooth curves and that solid bottom. I think I'm in love.

This, my friends, is the beginning of something special. After only the first time I can tell already. Oh yeah, I'm in it for the long haul. This is a relationship that is going to last. It already started more than a generation ago. There's history here, history that will carry on and grow over the years, gradually worn smooth by time and use, until we are both old. I will grow old with this object of my affection, and the thought of that makes me ridiculously happy.

You just can't say that about an iPhone.

Years ago, my Oma asked my Opa for a favour. She needed a good, sturdy sauerkraut pounder (Yes, such a thing really does exist). It needed to be heavy enough to bruise the shredded cabbage to release the juices, but not so heavy that it was difficult to wield. It needed to be long enough that she wouldn't hit her wrists on the crock. And it needed to be sturdy to hold up to my Oma's strong, capable hands and arms.

My Opa, a woodworker by trade, from a long line of furniture makers back in Germany, had a workshop set up in the garage where all his tools were kept neat, tidy and in order. He chose his wood. Two pieces were needed to achieve the length my Oma asked for, though you have to look oh so closely at the pounder to tell where they were joined. With a few simple turns of his lathe, the magic of joinery and some sanding, Opa presented the sauerkraut pounder to my Oma. It was exactly what she wanted.

When my Oma learned that I had started to make my own sauerkraut, she searched the house, and like an archaeologist, pulled forth from the past, the long unused pounder. She sent it home with my mother one day, and last weekend I finally held the pounder in my hands. I caressed the handle, feeling the grain of the wood, the curves and grooves my Opa had crafted with skill, attention and love. More so than a piece of jewelery or some other family trinket, this piece, this practical, utilitarian tool represents a part of my heritage and creates a familial bond that is inexpressible in words. I can't even begin to tell you what this object means to me.

My Opa hasn't worked with wood in years. I don't know the last time he went out to his tool shed. He kidneys have been in slow failure for a long time now. He refused dialysis years ago, and it's long past the point where he could make use of it, even if he wanted to.

My Oma has had two hip replacements. She stills feel a lot of pain and has lost quite a bit of mobility. Much of her days revolve around looking after my Opa and keeping their small house. She still bakes and makes jam, but the days of the sauerkraut crock in the basement are over.

My heart feels full when I think of this handcrafted tool that has been passed down to me. And a tool it is. This is no museum piece to be set on display or worse, packed away and forgotten as the trapping of an irrelevant era. This tool was made to do a job and you can bet your life that I will put it to work. In fact I used it yesterday. I finally got around to making kraut out of the cabbage that I harvested weeks ago.

My god, what a difference the right tool makes. A while back, I had picked up one of those wooden meat tenderizer thingies at thrift store. Though second hand, it had never been used, and I figured it would do for pounding cabbage. Well, it worked ok, but the handle wasn't long enough, so I had to be careful or else I would bang my wrist on the crock. And the base wasn't very heavy, so I had to work really hard to bruise the cabbage, and even then it was difficult to get the juice out, meaning I often had to add salted water to the crock.

With my Oma's pounder I can easily bruise the cabbage and get the juices flowing almost immediately. This thing practically pounds itself. I love the handle and so do my wrists! I pounded away merrily with a big grin on my face, falling into a simple, meditative rhythm. I was done in no time. I was almost sad that I didn't have more cabbage to pound! But then I realised, me and my sauerkraut pounder have the whole rest of our lives to work together, in tandem, connected by history, united by love. Yep, this relationship is solid. It's got roots. It's going to last.

And you just can't say that about an iPhone.


Holly said...

A beautiful tool and a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing!

GEM said...

What a lovely connection of generational valuing of this wonderful tool. It is indeed a handsome utensil, and should last many more generations. Ask your Opa how to keep the wood of the head from drying out and checking.
I love the wonder and reverent appreciation inherent in your writing. I do check in daily, with pleasure. GEM

Tony R. said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing this with us. This post has renewed my love for much so that I am going to dust off the old lathe and start turning some stuff. I'm also thinking of building a pole-lathe because they don't need electricity!

Amber said...

Hi Holly. Thanks for visiting and leaving a lovely comment.

Hi GEM. Nice to hear from you again. Thanks so much for your kind words.
And that's a good idea to ask about care of the wood. I'll ask my Opa next time I talk to him.

Hey Tony. Cool! You could make your own sauerkraut pounder...or other stuff too. :)
I didn't know what a pole-lathe was, so I looked it up and found this neat article.

SaharaSky said...

LOVELY! I absolutely love how tied to our ancestry this way of life makes us. Or at least it brings us closer so that we recognize that we do have a history ...that we did indeed come from someone somewhere. Thank you for sharing your story. Your Opa crafted a wonderful legacy for you.

wendyytb said...

Wow! What a lucky girl you are! I bet your grandparents are happy that the crusher will be well cared for and appreciated.

Liz said...


Verona said...

I'm so glad to see your appreciation of things handed down. They often tell quite a story and they're the things we should cherish the most. Very beautifully written too, Amber. Oma told me she read it to Opa.They are thrilled.
Love Mom.

Tony R. said...

Have you heard of the blog Homegrown Evolution? Their current post is
all about red cabbage kraut...I figured it might go well with your kraut basher :)