It started with Sam.
A pot of soup is simmering. My mother, up to her wrists in sticky bread dough, nods toward the stove. “Get the ladle and give that a stir, will you?”
The bread dough is not behaving well. This is Guam, and gauging the amount of humidity being absorbed by the dough is chancy at any time. She jerks another nod toward the stove. “Right there.”
I’m still hesitating. “Sam!” she finally bellows in frustration. “The spoon!”
The industrial-kitchen-sized spoon that’s been right in front of me on the counter the whole time. The spoon which is not a ladle, but has a deep enough bowl to count as the Little Dipper.
We never had that confusion again. Sam came with us to Maine and became the go-to utensil for stirring spaghetti sauce, serving potato salad, and ladling stew. I don’t use Sam much anymore, but he’s still master of the corner drawer in the kitchen. Every other thing I’ve named around here can trace its pedigree to him.
The car is Molly, named for a long-suffering horse I met on my first trip to Ireland. Newly arrived in the country and determined to cram in as many ‘experiences’ as possible, my mother and I had joined the horde of summer tourists to take a ride in a pony trap, one of those romantic looking, two-wheeled, horse-drawn carts that are about as authentically Irish as horse-drawn buggies are in this country today. This particular ride went through the Gap of Dunloe in the MacGillicuddy’s Reeks down to the Lakes of Killarney, following a steep, rocky trail. Poor Molly huffed, puffed, and groaned the whole way. I was so worried about the horse that I don’t remember much of the landscape at all. In salute to her, every car I’ve owned since then has been named Molly, and when my old Subaru drags herself up yet another of our Maine hills, I pat her on the dashboard and say, “Good girl, Molly!” She groans, shakes her transmission, and we go on.
One of the quintessential components of homesteading is making one’s own bread, those lovely artisanal loaves you see in magazines, preferably using flour from locally sourced grain. Well, good luck with that if your house is sixty degrees in the winter. Getting dough to rise in the absence of a nice warm wood stove nearby or a gas oven’s pilot light just doesn’t work for me. But I make a loaf of whole wheat cinnamon raisin bread every week. Or rather, Mrs. Cleaver does.
OK, full disclosure: I admit I stole the name from Barbara Kingsolver, who in her wonderful Animal, Vegetable, Miracle says that her family’s crockpot, that faithful, stay-at-home soup maker, is nicknamed for Beaver’s mom. I rarely use a crockpot–only to make baked beans or apple butter–but my breadmaker certainly fills the bill for a center-of-the-home appliance. Mrs. Cleaver does a nice job of minding the kitchen while I’m otherwise employed.
The oil furnace has acquired the name Smaug this year, because the blower has developed the same kind of raspy squeal the movie dragon had when Bard the Bowman shot him. I have been living on faith all winter that Smaug does not intend to burn down the village around my ears. Harmon, the pellet stove (named for his brand) has had to pick up the slack because I’ve turned down Smaug’s thermostat.
Chief Tecumseh and I got to spend a lot of quality time together this year. The snowblower is named for the brand of motor that drives him, and other colorful adjectives describing his tendency to blow snow back in my face are regularly hurled into the freezing air. Chief is still parked at the front of the garage, just barely leaving enough room for Molly to squeeze in and out. (Hey, it’s only May: I’m not putting Chief into storage for the summer yet!) I’ll have to get The Old Grey Mare out within the next few weeks, though, because the grass is starting to green up and pretty soon the gray Craftsman lawn tractor and I will be spending some quality time together, too, even though she has a tendency to blow grass back in my face.
When I start mowing, I’ll have to be sure to duck beneath the branches of the Whomping Willow in the side yard that has a malevolent habit of snatching off my hat and which once gleefully knocked me backward off the tractor. Grandmother Apple in the front yard, the matriarch of all the other wild apple trees around here, judging by her girth and lichen, is much more considerate as long as I don’t disturb her bees. Grandfather Balsam in the back yard is too tall to notice me from his lofty height, but his roots will not tolerate the intrusion of a mower in that shady corner. Forrest the Chipmunk–any chipmunk–will dart in front of the tractor (“Run, Forrest!”), and Brother Jerome the Red Squirrel–any red squirrel–will stand upon his rocky pulpit and chitter at me that I am not where I am supposed to be, and if I do not return immediately to my duties, he will inform Brother Prior. Like Cadfael in the mystery stories, I ignore the sneaky little snot. I know where he hides his stolen sunflower seeds.
Right now, I have a bit of a problem, though. The electric clothes dryer, which was probably getting up towards eleventy-one years old, died this winter. The door to the basement was blocked by a four-foot drift until about three weeks ago, but now that I have access to the cellar again, it’s time to get a new dryer installed. I never did name the old one, though, so I need to have a Naming.