The Freaking Firkin Club
By Lois Hoffman
It still amazes me how some things can snowball. Some simple little remark or incident that you thought was so insignificant can grow into something huge. This just happened to me, all over a firkin.
Dear friends Davy and Sandy from Pennsylvania love the primitive decorating style and recently mentioned how much they like firkins. Now, even though I do know some antiques and am on the verge of being one myself, my educated guess was that a firkin was some type of antique furniture. Well, that was about as wrong as I could be. However, my curiosity started a firkin frenzy.
A firkin is actually a lidded wooden container with bent wood handles. Originally, these were so named after the unit of measure that filled these particular types of kegs that were used for cask conditioning, usually being filled with a certain kind of beer. A “firkin” unit of measure is equal to one-quarter of a barrel, 72 pints or 8 gallons.
In later use, besides being used for storing beer, firkins were used to hold sugar, salt and even fish and other staples. They come in various sizes and colors depending on the type of wood used. Most have lids, however through the ages, some have been lost or destroyed, so firkins can be found without lids. Some are straight and some are slanted. Many times they are referred to in antique shops as sugar buckets.
OK, back to the freaking firkin story. I like wood and I like things to stuff more things into. So, naturally, I fell in love with Sandy and Davy’s “freaking” firkins. Finding one would become my “thrill of the hunt” whenever I went to garage sales (which is really not my thing) or perused antique shops, which I don’t do very often either. The word “freaking” in this context is an adjective meaning exceptional; hence it is a perfect description of firkins because they are pretty awesome and a special find. So, in my world, they became freaking firkins.
As fate would have it, in the next couple of weeks my friend Steph, who is a garage sale pro, asked me to go with her to the US 12 garage sales in Michigan. I told her that my quest was to find a freaking firkin, thinking that I could (finally) educate her on something. Her reply was “Oh, I have one!” and then she proceeded to show me this perfect, small, dark-stained, lidded wooden bucket. I wanted one even more.
Well, we hit garage sales all day, asking at each one about a firkin, but to no avail. Pennie, another friend, and I went to a huge antique sale that covered the entire Allegan, Michigan, fairgrounds a few weeks later. No firkins to be found, not even one! I surrendered myself to the fact that some things are sweeter the harder they are to come by. I took a chance and mentioned to Ron, who is the king of non-collectors, that I really wanted one. His response did not disappoint me: “What for??”
Quite honestly, I didn’t know what for, I just knew that I wanted one. What I would put in it or where I would put it, I hadn’t a clue. Then he amazed me even more when he told me that he thought he had one. What? He had always been real close to his “Grammy” and he thought he had hers … somewhere.
My hopes were soon dashed when it was nowhere to be found. How could he misplace a freaking firkin! “It’s a just a wooden box, I only saved it because it was Grammy’s,” was his response. Big sigh. So, I would still have something to hunt for on my list.
So, life goes on and we got busy with harvest and he decided to put some tile in his fields. Lo and behold, looking for some remnants of field tile in the upstairs of his barn, there it set … his freaking firkin! It was medium size, in excellent shape and with lid intact. I was ecstatic!
Looking inside lent even more treasures. There were a couple of old dishes and under that some partial balls of yarn. Then, tucked in the way bottom, were his Grammy’s knitting needles and a small green square, maybe only two inches across, that she had started to knit for something. How cool! After some thought, we decided that I could make that square a center of an afghan that I want to crochet (I don’t knit) for Ron’s grandson Riley when he graduates from high school. Even though he didn’t know her, he will have something from the hands of his great-great-grandmother. What a turn of events.
But the story doesn’t end there. Tony and Jeanine, some dear friends from Michigan, came down to Ron’s and Tony helped him button up harvest. Jeanine fell in love with my firkin and decided that she would like one too. So, she and I went on another “freaking firkin” hunt down to the antique shops in Cambridge City, Indiana.
We found firkins of all different sizes and shapes and colors. I was surprised to find so many different ones and, apparently, they are a prized find because the price tag on most of them gravitated to near the $200 mark. Jeanine did come home empty-handed because she didn’t find quite the right one. It’s like anything, you know the right one when you see it. Nevertheless, we had a day together that we both will remember forever, just like I did with Steph and Pennie.
I know that Jeanine and I will have more days together hunting the freaking firkin. Perhaps that is part of its charm, bringing people together. It seems like everyone that I introduce to these survivors of everyday life wants one.
There is no question anymore what purpose that my firkin will serve. Just like Grammy, mine will hold my crochet needles and yarn and keep them close at hand but out of sight. See what you started, Sandy, a freaking firkin club!
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