The objects to which I cling: the wooden cheeseboxes


This antique cheesebox has made its way through several generations to my house.

I have two of these simple round boxes, each the same size, about two feet deep and the same across. They’re blonde wood bent into a circle and stapled in place to create the box, which also has another piece of bent wood encircling the base, and a slatted, round wooden lid that fits snugly over the top. They’re likely well over 100 years old.

Mine are filled with keepsakes. Journals, newspaper clippings, mementoes and other things that have formed the story of my life. I don’t know what I’d do if there was a fire – the journals would all be gone. Every single one I’ve written since I was 11. I guess that’s what they mean when they talk about the temporal. I’m imagining me lifting and trying to push one of these boxes out the basement window in a hurry, if there was a fire. The reality is, I would have to leave it behind and emerge from the ashes to re-create my own story.

My mom was raised on a farm. I know her grandparents – my great-grandmother being the Alice Baldry of a previous post – lived with her and her parents for some of her childhood. Our family lore relates the story of my great-grandfather selling the milk from the farm’s cows to the local cheese factory in Ingersoll.

Ingersoll’s famous history is built on cheese. In 1866, the cheese factory (with help from a couple other local factories) made the Big Cheese, a brute of a cheddar that was seven feet in diameter and three feet high, for the New York State Fair in Saratoga. My great-grandfather’s cowmilk was in that round of cheese, which weighed 7,300 lbs.

“It was so big, in fact,” I can still hear my mom saying, “that it broke the axle on the wagon carrying it.”

After its appearance at the New York State Fair, the cheese made its way to England and about 300 lbs eventually came back to Ingersoll to be shared with the farmers and factory workers.

I imagine that the cheese that came home in my cheese boxes also came from that factory. My mom remembers the boxes of cheese being kept in the cellar, where it was cool, and eating the contents all winter. Even when it was mouldy. And hardened. That’s just what you did. Best-before dates didn’t really exist.

I love that these two boxes have lasted generations and have a place in my home. No one knows what a cheese box is anymore. Or what it was used for. I think it’s fitting that they’re full of memories of my life. And a few extra things. I love that they’re useful, that I can place my laptop on it when I get up off the couch. I love that they’re in virtually the same condition they were when they were full of cheese – rough, unfinished wood that belies the age of the box. I love the stories that have come with them.

Two cheeseboxes, round, solid, useful and still full of stories.

#amwriting #personalessay #history

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