Archive of ‘The Harper Journal’ category

How Mary Used To Make Dinner

Bulloch Hall KitchenIf you’ve never thought much about the Civil War (entirely possible in California; unthinkable in Georgia), you might not know that when General Sherman marched through Atlanta, he burned down the 19th century plantations that would have become the 21st century tourist attractions featuring reenactors and lots of candle dipping. So when I was living in Atlanta and searching for the antebellum South, I drove north to Roswell, a picturesque town with history to spare. I toured three houses and all my docents were courtly men in oxford cloth shirts and shiny loafers.  One of the things that fascinates me about house guides (besides everything) is how often they refer to the former occupants by first name. “Mittie gazed out that very window at her future husband” or “John took his last breath in that rocking chair.” It’s as if they knew them personally.

Bulloch Hall, one of the main attractions in Roswell, is the childhood home of Mittie Roosevelt, mother of President Teddy Roosevelt. When I saw the kitchen (located two floors down in the cellar), and the steep stairway the servants had to climb (while balancing hot food and trays), I realized that the architect who designed this house never cooked a meal in his life.    Adjacent to the dining room is a holding area with a fireplace where the stew was warmed again after its journey from the kitchen two floors below. Now I spend a lot of time preparing meals and all I could think about was the hardworking woman who baked bread and roasted beef in that dark, unvented kitchen. I wanted to go back in time and give her a fridge, a dish washer and a self cleaning oven. I wanted to make the architect carry some hot stew up the steep and narrow stairs and rethink that floor plan. She was an anonymous cook, a woman no one remembered, but I was sure her name was Mary and I felt like I knew her personally.

You know, maybe I should be a house guide at Bulloch Hall.  Do you think they’d accept my application?

Tiny writing spaces

Margaret's DeskI toured the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta: “house” being a bit of a misnomer.  They should really call it the Margaret Mitchell Apartment; she herself referred to it as  “the dump.”  Originally a single family home, the Tutor Revival was carved into 10 apartments  in 1919. Margaret and her husband resided on the ground floor, at Number 1, in a space that could be described as a cubby hole.  Ms Mitchell wrote Gone With The Wind in a corner of the parlor and as I stared at her desk, I wondered what Virginia Woolf would make of this  arrangement.   Ms Mitchell wrote one of the world’s best selling books in a communal space with no doors.  (Perhaps Margaret’s husband spent more time away from the house than Virginia’s did?) It was a great reminder that we really don’t need a room of our own in order to write. But we do need fortitude and imagination. How lucky for Virginia that she had all three.  And luckier for Margaret that she only needed the two.