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An Old Brown Glazed Earthen Jar

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An Old Brown Glazed Earthen Jar

Post  mikeschultz on Tue Jan 17 2012, 18:51

Just a few years ago, when I had more vim and vigor,
I was out cutting the brush from the back left corner
of our hillside property. Jack Parsons, our neighbor
at the time, asked me to clear off some of his property
while I was at it. I told him that I would and went to work
using a machete and bush axe working through briars
and honey suckle and locust saplings and soft wood
trees some folks around here call, “Suckers.”

As I made my way up the hillside a few more feet or so,
I took a big swing with the bush axe, and the blade
struck a hard surface. I pulled aside some brush
and vines, and found an old brick foundation
of double lapped 20th Century bricks. By the time
I had cleared it around I could see that it measured
about five feet square. It was a double coursed
brick construction that had been filled in as a trash pit

for some time, decades even. I told Jack of my find
and asked if he minded if I salvaged some of the bricks.
He said that I was welcome to whatever I found back
there as payment for doing the work. I excavated,
often with just my gloved hands and gardening tools.
I was very aware of the smells of the rich earth and
sniffed about. I could not help thinking that this
might have been a privy, an outhouse, but thank

goodness I never got any hint of the smell of old
sewage. At a depth of about three feet, maybe four,
I found the last of the old cans and broken bottles.
Cleaning away the last of the debris and setting aside
a few more old bottles found intact, I came to a five
or six-inch layer of sawdust laid over a compacted
fine sand floor. The wood dust was old but recognizable,
and its presence told me right off – “It’s an old icehouse,”

I said aloud to myself. Admittedly, it is a small thing
by most standards, but I thrilled to think of the bit
of history I was experiencing. I thought of the fellows
who would have had to haul the blocks of ice
from the horse drawn ice carriage, from the alley,
perhaps, up the hillside of the yard to the little shed
with its brick-bottomed base set into the hillside
in the shade of the trees. Though I wondered if there

were many trees about it when it was in use,
as folks used wood and coal to cook their meals
and heat their homes. I would think so,
but I couldn’t be sure without seeing photographs
of the property from the date of its construction,
September 1908, through the time when the
icehouse would have been a necessary structure.
Just as with the sand I’d found at the bottom

of the foundation I’d spent the better part of a day
excavating, I recall how my father had lined
the bottom of our ice house with sand to leach away
the melting ice water as quickly as possible. And he too
had used burlap bags and sawdust as insulation.
Looking about, I could see the old icehouse
standing over the brick foundation, back here on the hillside
with its cracks sealed and chinked tightly. And reaching

into the sawdust that still lay at the bottom of the foundation,
I let it filter through my fingers, as I might
have the sawdust of my youth. And in my mind’s eye,
I could see the villagers tending to the ice in their
own icehouses. And I knew that someone had
similarly tended the foundation I excavated.
It is where they kept milk, butter, vegetables, and
other perishable foods. I brought my mind back

from its historical wonderings, and turned my attention
again to the brickwork. The square was intact
except at the bottom of the southeast corner where
a root had gained entrance and grown up around
and down creating a bend and a nook, a root bigger
than my arm. I dug out the sawdust and dirt
from behind and beneath the root and there discovered
a brown glazed earthen jar. I felt a pang, guilt,

for taking the jar from its resting place, out from the
embrace of the root that had protected the jar
for decades. Again my mind took flight,
as I thought of what the old pottery jar might have
once held. Butter, perhaps, but certainly something
that required a paraffin seal between the lip and the cap.
I carefully cleaned the clinging dirt and sawdust from the jar
and thought too of the hands that had last placed it there

on the ice blocks. And as I wiped I noticed
finger marks in the clay jar and thought of the potter
who’d made the jar. Then I thought of my luck
and a fortunate natural embrace that ensured the jar
would remain intact for someone to find and to appreciate.
How, though, I cannot help but wonder, had just that one jar
been left behind? And I smile when I see
how much richer my life is for finding and wondering
about this old brown glazed earthen jar.

Michael Schultz © August 25, 2008

Posts : 503
Author Credits : 942
Accolades : 13
Join date : 2011-11-11
Age : 64
Location : Crooksville, OH

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