Jane McKay Hardison began her homemaking career as a young bride around 1910. Her first stove was powered by wood burning. She made hot water corn bread, biscuits, eggs, and sausage on it every morning for her family. Jane McKay canned her own jellies every summer. She stored the peach, blackberry, and strawberry jelly jars in neat rows in her home’s root cellar along with the root vegetables like potatoes and onions.
She could ring a chicken’s neck, dip the carcass in boiling water, and pluck the feathers. She would clean out the chicken, split it down the middle, and press it flat in a cast iron skillet to cook for dinner. She placed two sad irons on top of the chicken to weigh the meat down to ensure it cooked through. Jane McKay scooped the cream off the top of the morning’s milk and make butter from it. Jane McKay helped her husband butcher and smoke pigs to provide meat for their family throughout the year.
She ironed and starched her own sheets. She crocheted delicate pieces of lace which she sewed to the edges of her pillow cases. Jane Mckay washed her clothes by hand, hung them on the line to dry, and ironed them with heavy sad irons. She sewed her own family’s clothes on a treadle sewing machine, and she never threw a scrap of material away. She saved every button off of every shirt and dress to use on other garments. Even worn out clothes were granted new lives as patch pieces on other pieces of clothing and as players in patch work quilts. Jane McKay made do with what she had. She had a large turkey platter with a crack down the center which she repaired with duck tape on the underside and continued to use for years.
Sometimes, strangers who rode the rails knocked on her door. They asked to stay the night in the barn, but she and Hershel would insist that they stay inside the house in a real bed. No matter the time of day or night, a stranger would be met with warm leftovers that were kept hot on the back of the stove.
And now, I, Heather Jane, Jane McKay’s great granddaughter, read books on a Kendal to figure out what goes in a root cellar and how to make jelly. Next week, as I learn canning techniques beside my grandmother, I will look towards my future life in Africa with some confidence because even though I have no idea what I’m doing, I know Jane McKay will be closer than ever.
This packing journey constantly transports me back in time. These days, I stop with sacramental solemnity as I press a rolling pin over biscuit dough to consider her legacy—the art of home making—holy. I think of her as I research treadle sewing machines on the internet, peruse seed catalogues for rosemary and basil, and place my pots in a cardboard box to send overseas. She is there, in the great cloud of witnesses, cheering aloud on behalf of her namesake. She tells me, “Do not grow weary in doing good.”