For the Love of Liverpool Pitchers
SMALL matters occasionally rivet my attention but aren't enough for a major dissertation. Well, here's a note from Mr. Burnham of zip code 14850 who mentions breaking the ice in the bedchamber pitcher before undertaking the morning ablutions. He says life was harsh in those days. Nay, nay, Mr. Burnham, life in those days had happy moments, but didn't we catch it if we overslept and the ice busted the pitcher! ``How many times have I told you never to leave no water in the ewer! You know better'n that!'' Mr. Burnham was just lucky to wake up while that water was still just skum over!
However, Mr. Burnham touches a memory nerve. 'Twas the Burnham House, an ordinary of olden times operated by an ancestor of his, that brought nicety to the matutinal cleansing by sending up an abigail with a Liverpool pitcher of warm water from the kitchen. She also announced that breakfast was being served. And how did he want his eggs? I was about to say a room in the Burnham House was 50 cents a night, but on reflection I believe the comforts were better than elsewhere and the management was able to get 75 cents.
The Liverpool pitcher is in focus. Liverpool pitchers were commemorative, and were mass produced to celebrate this and that. Just about every home in New England had, at one time, the Liverpool pitcher for the Bunker Hill Monument. Lafayette laid the cornerstone in 1825, and Daniel Webster orated at the dedication in 1843.
The pitcher, turned out by the thousands, was one of the popular patterns. Being mass produced for quick sale, the porcelain was not top quality and the price was small, so Liverpool pitchers were never regarded as keepworthy, and were ``common'' in the household. They didn't get a special shelf in the chiny-closet. So, they frequently froze up in bedrooms.
In the middle 1800s, almost every ship that was launched in New England had an issue of Liverpools, with a likeness of the vessel embellished with cherubs and birds of peace, the name of the owner or master, and something like, ``Success to the Eliza W. Horsfalter.'' What didn't get sold at the launching as souvenirs went aboard the boat with other dishes, and could be used in far places to sweeten customs inspectors. As a boy in my heatless bedroom, I steadfastly remembered to dump my Liverpool before pulling up the quilt until one night ``Souvenir of Harraseeket Grange'' got just a bit too much coolth. I'm pretty sure I haven't seen a Liverpool pitcher since.
Another freeze-up we tried to avoid happened in the pump. The old hand pump for well water, in the kitchen or in the barn, was designed to ``let down'' the water if the handle were lifted to top position and held there for a few seconds. This lifted a flap in the ``leather,'' the vacuum was released, and there would be a sigh and a glub-glub, providing there was no water left to freeze. So at bedtime all winter somebody was bound to ask if the pump had been let down. Forget to let down the pump, and there would be a thawin' job before breakfast. Grampie Fult Cornish was always the last of his big family to turn in, and when the house was quiet he'd kick off his boots and say, ``Well, I guess it's my turn to let down the pump.''
Another thing comes to mind. In our small villages the iceman delivered every other day. Wednesdays and Saturdays were the days to ice the walk-in coolers of the meat markets and the fish plant. For two summers I was helper on the house routes to Els Miller, and as I was a high schooler and Els wasn't, I'd do the small ice boxes, and Els would do anything over 25 cents, which was more than I could lift. And when the day was done and we brought the ice wagon back to the stable, our job included grooming and feeding the team, cleaning up the cart and greasing the wheels, and making the double harness ready for tomorrow.
And always, we did a very nice thing. We always left a piece of ice on the tailgate, under the iceman's rubber shoulder protector, so if somebody in town unexpectedly needed a piece of ice, he could come and help himself. Almost every morning Els and I would find some dimes on the tailgate and some ice missing. Els called that ``conscience money,'' but he was jesting. Do you suppose that these stores that are closing around the country nowadays would still have years to go if they'd been so kind to customers? It's a thought - but what happened to the iceman?