Christmas Eve 2018
Adus F. Dorsey II
I always like to stop in and see Grand Ma Pace in Teasdale when I can but during the holidays seem to be the best time, during the winter months her house is warm and cozy, and the visits are always filled with special memories of days and people gone by. Philly was there, he had brought Grand Ma a Christmas tree the week before and her Great Grand Kids had been over the day before to decorate it. Moving a little slower these days Grand Ma, at 96, walked me to the brightly decorated Christmas tree that occupied major part of her living room and in Grand Ma fashion began to tell me the individual stories about who had hand made each and every ornament.
It has been almost thirty years since Grand Ma started telling me stories and I don’t think I have ever heard the same one twice. Sitting in her favorite chair with a stack of books within reach she seems to slip back in time when she recalls special times in her childhood. It never seems to amaze me that she can remember all the special people and times in her life that she can recall in amazing clarity.
Conversation at Grand Ma Pace’s house always takes on a life of its own and depending on who is there you never know where it is going to take you. Today Philly was there and while looking at the clock on the wall the idea came to mind that Santa must surely be hitching up his reindeer at the North Pole and loading his big red sleigh, if he hadn’t done it already. Then the three of us contemplating what time it was, Grand Ma deep in thought, Philly leaning back in the reclining chair as far as it would go and me scratching my head… out of nowhere Philly says “where do you think every day starts?” We sat there and talked about it for a minute or two, coming to no conclusion, then without a word Philly gets up and heads for the back door like nothing just happened. When Philly gets to the kitchen, Grand Ma turns her head and says good-bye, Philly says nothing, and me, I am sitting on the couch thinking, “wait a minute, we need an answer to this time question, you can’t leave just yet.”
With Christmas on my mind and Grand Ma and me just sitting there all cozy from the coal furnace simmering in the basement I ask her about a favorite Christmas of hers growing up that she remembers. With out so much as a blink of an eye Grand Ma declares, “Wear Ever Pans.” Then without skipping a beat she says. “When I was leaving Teasdale for college in the 30’s, it was right after Christmas time, my Mother Mae, had given me a set of Wear Ever Cookware for Christmas, I still have some of them.” Somewhat flabbergasted but not so surprised, I sat quietly on the couch and waited for her to tell me the rest of the story.
Wear Ever Cookware can trace its origins back to 1888 when Charles Martin Hall, a young inventor from Oberlin, Ohio discovered an inexpensive way to smelt aluminum by perfecting the electrochemical reduction process that extracted aluminum from bauxite ore. Seeking to fund his continued exploration of this new process Hall eventually partnered with Alfred E. Hunt, a metallurgist in charge of the Pittsburgh Testing Laboratory, raising $20,000 with the help of investors and eventually forming the Pittsburgh Reduction Company which would later come to be known as the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA).
Grand Ma Pace proceeded to tell me about these wonderful Wear Ever Pans that her mother Mae had given her as a Christmas present in the 30’s and I got so caught up in her story that I forgot all about the “beginning of time” question Philly had just posed before he exited the back door with no affirmative answer. (That is just how fast conversation sometimes moves at the Pace Teasdale house.)
As if re-living that Christmas long ago Grand Ma begins to tell me about Wear Ever Pan parties where small groups of women would gather and a salesman or woman would cook dinner for everyone present using every pan in the set and then take pan orders at the end of the evening.
As the story goes, Club (Wear Ever) Aluminum Cookware is retro today, but when introduced nearly 100 years ago, it was cutting edge. It also brought a new way of making and selling the aluminum pots and pans. Cooks also liked aluminum’s similarity to silver. Cast aluminum featured excellent heat conductivity, and unlike cast iron, could come with wooden handles. About half of all cookware is still made with aluminum.
At first, you couldn’t buy Club Aluminum in shops. Club Aluminum began before Tupperware, Avon and Pampered Chef parties. Club Aluminum started in Chicago as the Club Aluminum Utensil Company in 1923.
A 1925 Club Aluminum cookbook informed cooks of the company’s new technology: “The first entire kitchen equipment of processed hardened aluminum, scientifically constructed with tight-fitting covers.” Club Aluminum was also “scientifically constructed to last a lifetime,” according to the book.
Trademark tight-fitting covers helped seal in moisture, which meant there was no need to add water. This introduced a new style of cooking in the home. Club Aluminum touted this cooking style for its health benefits because essential nutrients didn’t escape through steam. The company sold the cookware on the party plan by selling it “directly to home managers through health lectures,” according to the Club Aluminum cookbook.
The cookware parties were most common from 1923, when Wear Ever Aluminum began, through the 1930’s. The company sold Wear Ever Aluminum products through the end of the 20th century, although its heyday was from the late 1930s through the 1960s. Not surprisingly, Wear Ever Aluminum pots have the colorful, rounded mid-century modern look of that era.
To me there is nothing more satisfying than an afternoon session with Grand Ma Pace in Teasdale re-living stories of her past, especially at Christmas.
And to answer to Philly’s question where in the world each day begins;
The Chatham Islands are a speck of land near New Zealand, just east of them is the area where the world begins and ends each day. Some of the balmy Tongan islands are closer to the invisible date line but, in summer, nowhere sees the new dawn earlier than the 750 humans and 250,000 sheep on the Chatham’s. Seems sort of like Wayne County to me.
Merry Christmas Grand Ma Pace, my world is a much more informed place because of all of you.
Merry Christmas Everybody.