I’ve been wanting to write about this rolling pin for a while now, my imaginary friend. It came from a lovely little shop called Cottage Fever – it caught my eye because I use these things, but also because it was beautifully cared for. I am guessing the rolling pin is more than fifty years old, without a nick in its painted handles and its surface oiled and unmarked. It has quickly become one of my favourite tools; and you will be pleased to know that I endeavour to take equally good care of it.
Of course, I don’t really know the story of the rolling pin. I’ve seen many of them around, in vintage and second-hand shops and flea markets, though never one as well cared for as this, and I think there is a story here. Well, there are probably many stories…I caught myself and still catch myself wondering about the person who owned this thing and who clearly loved it. I understand why s/he loved it – it is beautifully balanced, made entirely of wood, and a joy to use. Why it came to be sold, given away, or discarded is another mystery. Although I use different rolling pins for different doughs, it really would not be possible to buy something new that is better than this almost-antique – and that is terribly sad. We have become a culture where it is possible to buy anything, where technology is amazing and life-changing, where stuff is everywhere – and yet, the idea of things that last, that might be passed on to another generation seems laughable.
It is true that there is an emerging consciousness of ‘artisan’, which has mostly been confined to the realm of food and drink. But even as mass manufacturers and fast food places have co-opted ‘artisan’ for their branding slogans, the word becomes difficult to use…There is also a movement called maker culture, which seem to be very rich and eclectic and busy making, re-making, recycling, and up-cycling everything from clothes to furniture to art. Maker culture tends to be marginalized and artisan has been co-opted, but unquestionably these ideas and others can show us the path to a beautiful, fuller life.
To go back to the story of the rolling pin, the person who owned it had time. Time to bake things from scratch, but also time to take care of the tools at the end of the day. It is certainly true that fifty years ago, around the time the rolling pin was born, almost everybody cooked from scratch, partly because there was not the plethora of packaged and regurgitated food available that there is today. So there was more time, and better food…This is not meant to be nostalgia for time past, however. The most likely story is that the rolling pin belonged to a woman, that she did not work outside her home, or at best, part time, and that her husband worked at a job that paid sufficiently to buy the family necessities. This is most likely simply because statistics tell us that life was like this for the middle majority at that time, but it is not an argument for a return to this version of time past.
What it is an argument for is a life filled with some small beauties and depth and flavour, of enough time to spend a few hours baking something special. Or enough time to make, or remake from the thrift store, a pleasing piece of clothing. Time to plant a garden, and time to tend it. Time to preserve the fruits of that garden. Maybe most importantly, time to smell the roses in the garden – time that is unscripted, unproductive, and gloriously soul enlarging. This kind of time is rare in our culture; not only does it have little value but it is actively denigrated by those who are ambitious and status-driven and dollar-defined. My rolling pin has little value for them, either. But for others, the rolling pin could be a metaphor for much that is missing in our lives, and a reminder that living with less might actually be living with more.
I will leave you with a picture of my most recent creation with the rolling pin. These were not particularly time-consuming – but I have a bit of practice! The impetus was to spend an hour or two being creatively engaged – and, of course, dessert, which is a rarish indulgence here. For me, the rolling pin and the fruits of my labour are a personal response to the threats of climate change, our landfills overflowing with food packaging, generations searching for the meaning of life in meaningless jobs and endless commutes…just so. It seems to me that the way forward, the intelligent response to these very real crises, is for each of us to make the time and place for objects of beauty and creative engagement, in whatever way is true to ourselves. To reclaim a portion of our time from popular culture, from consumer products and passively consumed entertainment. To expect more, while choosing less.