Table service for the American Home, 1939

The threshers eating dinner, photo by Wallace Kirkland for Life, n.d. (1930s)


There are three general types of service. Russian, when all food is served in the kitchen and brought to the table after the guests are seated. Each plate may be served or the food may be arranged on platters for each guest to help himself.   Family Type, when the food is all served at the table by the host or hostess or both.  Combination, when the main course is served at the table by the host and all the other courses served in portions from the kitchen.
                                                              — from The American Home Cookbook, 1939.


Getting the vintage on, 1970s version

1970s prairie dress, funretro
Notice how your husband lingers in the kitchen if the spicy aroma of cookies, spread on cooking racks, greets him.
  — Homemade Cookies, by the Food Editors of Farm Journal, 1971


Luncheonette to real life

The luncheonette can feel like a dream state. A delicious one where the cakes are stocked on mirrored shelves and revolving slowly in the case, and the waitresses heft flying saucer trays of meatloaf deluxe and BLTs and milkshakes down endless aisles. And everyone is wearing roller skates and dressed to the vintage 9s, in dresses like this:

1950s Texas scramble dress
But it's even better to see the dress being worn in its new, real life, out there in the world.

Texas scramble dress worn by its buyer, Andrea — in Texas.

Thanks so much, Andrea, for sending this!


Preparation for a chicken

1906 postcard, obscurio.

We have joined the zietgeist though we never intended to, and are heading for the receiving end of 25 or 26 or 27 Buff Orpington chicks sometime between September 18th and 23rd.

1908 postcard, laurasvintagegarden.
The factual/numeric aspects of this plan are a bit shaky to me, but I didn't make the arrangements. As a certain breed of Virgo I am fighting the compulsion to see the plan as indefinite as mist. But that was another life.

1939 encyclopedia page, vintagehomerecycled.
In this life, the person who arranged the chicken thing is anything but misty, so there is no question: we are getting them. And it was his job, as a little boy, to take care of all the chickens on his grandparents' farm. So, zeitgeist or not, this isn't a nouveau chickens situation — for him. You could say that by virtue of my union with someone who has squat respect for the zeitgeist, I have in fact joined the zeitgeist.

1970 back to the land followers, westvirginaculture.
There is much preparing: coop, chicken area, fence, whether or not we can let the birds range all over the yard. Our pigeons do — they mill around while the dogs are out, since the dogs were proofed off pigeons long ago. If we can convince the dogs that chickens are just big pigeons things should be fine.

1961 Pasadena school photo, totalvintage.
One of us is mulling over the right coop and bedding and feed.

1934, chicken house in Cairo, caravancollection.
One of us is looking for the right egg baskets and chicken-ish things. Not to mention gingham chicken-and-egg-gathering dresses.

1940s gingham dress, allencompany.
1920s-30s gingham dress, adelaidehomesewn.
1950s handmade dress, clevernettle.

And obsessing over how to use all the eggs. 

egg basket, rollinghillsvintage.



Town of Olive before the reservoir, showing towns and land now submerged (in blue) and land now owned by New York City (in green), from town of Olive archives.
Yesterday was Olive Day, a yearly fete at Davis Park for the whole giant little village that seems to be the official town of Olive (population 4,579 as of 2000). I was an author guest at the Olive Free Library booth, brought my books and basked in the questions, eyeing the table of vintage cookbooks for later (bought 5). The library ladies are sharp, hospitable, enterprising, and in a book club — and Russian Lover is one of their picks. Another book club, based nearby and held, lordy, at a B&B I've always wanted to escape to, is reading it too. Can't wait to sit with both. Promise me you olive gals won't hold back.

Part of the fare at the library table on Olive day. What you can't see: apples to the left, baked goods to the left of them, books all around.

At Olive Day the sheriff was holding court,  food booths included alligator and chicken (mixed together, I wondered, before or after being dispatched), and there were handcrafts and try-this's. It was 9/11. Kids ran around and got their faces painted. Sheep nosed for treats from their little exhibition paddock. EMTs sat at their HowToBeSafe table —some, no doubt, recalling the day and its aftermath not that many years back. A fellow chortled into a bullhorn about getting down and dirty in the upcoming egg toss. A tiny brown pony in a tiny western saddle got led around with a succession of kids, its head bobbing quickly as it fought the urge to trot.

Not the toolbox at Olive Day, but a green one I loved.
It was festive and somber at the same time, which made it kind of dreamy. I get into a heightened state when doing a reading or appearance, so the whole scene was bright brights and dark darks. There were those odds and ends that enhance the carny, grubby feel so often crusted under the edge of the cake dish, like a cloudy looking woman with ash colored hair who'd laid out a scatter of objects on a tarp on the ground. I picked up a rusty green toolbox (love toolboxes). This one had a sticker on it that had been torn off, leaving a fuzzy scar. I opened the lid and found rust, cobwebs, a dank smell. So the box was uncharmingly wrecked. The woman, the seller, perked up and rose from her lawn chair when I opened the lid — it signified interest. But she wanted a lot for it. Without thinking, in fiction not vintage mode (etiquette out the window), I said, No. That much? Really? Said it too abruptly to temper it. She was offended, and so overreached to justify: The box is a military antique. The green is U.S. military green. They are the only ones allowed to use that green.
Like UPS brown? I played.
No, she said.

None of what she said was true. It was so not true that I somehow wanted to help her save some kind of face. I wondered if she was trying to connect with the vaguely patriotic (not so vague for some) tone of the day by selling military-looking things.

The box was olive colored. I offered, well you've got an Olive green box. That's right for Olive day. She saw no connection there and frowned. It's true, it was a terrible effort. She dropped me for the tweens riffling through her pile of string bracelets, dollars in their hands. I went back to wandering. There is something about being the guest writer that turns me aimless when otherwise I'd be mission-ready, hunting for vintage, trying all the food, shuffling around in jeans and boots.

There were a lot of American flags. There was an art exhibit. There were rows and rows of cherry 1950s cars I couldn't quite get to. There were fresh apples two for fifty, barbecue ladled into giant white buns, a sportsman booth with dozens of pelts strung up along the edge of the tent, many with heads and paws attached, and a murky tank of some kind of fish. There was a timber wolf pelt, which threw me back into my book for about three minutes, sent me scribbling some notes before I headed for the coffee stand.

And two currents ran under the whole thing. One was 9/11, which some people chose to bring up in conversation between hot dogs and pieces of home-baked pie. The other, literally, involved water, the currents of it, running from the Esopus into the giant reservoir that sits like a hole in this part of Ulster County, being snared into tunnels and aqueducts and sent southwards to the city, away from here. In the Olive town offices on the other side of the parking lot, there are framed photos and documents dating back to when much of Olive was first emptied of whole towns and townspeople and then razed to make the reservoir and give NYC fresh water. Thousands were displaced. People tell stories about families watching their homesteads and farms burn to the ground, about a man who jumped out of a hayloft as the barn was torched beneath him, and then ran right back into the barn. It didn't happen that long ago. It happened to grandparents, great grandparents. And if Olive has a bit of an underdog feeling this might partially be why.

Giles general store, pre reservoir days, town of Olive archives. 

Building the reservoir, town of olive archives

I often run along the road over part of the reservoir, a road known around here as the lemon squeeze. It used to be the main way home. But they closed it after 9/11, for security reasons they said, and locals had to drive the long way home and once again felt like the city owned their lives. I run above the waters of the reservoir and the phantoms of hamlets.

Shokan village, under water, town of Olive archives.
To the right, as you head out, there's a long swath of lawn-struck hillside and woods crouched along the base of it, turkeys lacing the edge as they hunt for food. To the left is the reservoir. Lack of rain has exposed bare bars of land in the water. People stand at the edge, looking for foundations exposed. There's talk of a church steeple visible somewhere, but I'm told that's a myth. The city was, mostly, effective. Still, you find this.

Old foundation exposed by low water levels, Ashokan. Taken by K. Barbariantz, 2008.
Back at the library booth the ladies were still energized and people were buying those vintage cookbooks and children's books in bulk, and the donations were coming in, and the raffle tickets were flying out. I bought my vintage cookbooks, two apples, said thank you, headed home.