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Happy: Grandma Meeker’s Kitchen Safe

by Hazel Wells Tison

For years I held on to Grandma Meeker’s homemade kitchen safe thinking that one day I would restore it and find a use for it.  That project came to the forefront several years ago and Jack and I spent the better part of a week working on the primitive piece of furniture which was standard equipment in most homes in the first half of the 20th century. It was built by Jack’s Grandpa Meeker who came to Holmes County from Indiana before 1890. He was a contemporary of Mr. G.O. Banfil who platted the town of Bonifay, laid out and named the streets of the town. He was also a contemporary of Mr. Armstrong, an early businessman in Bonifay and built the first brick house, the one that sits catty corner to Memorial Field.  Mr. Meeker was a Brick Mason and built that house for the Armstrongs.

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    I can picture where the safe sat in Grandma Meeker’s kitchen, a separate structure from the main house connected by a porch.  The water well was on the L-shaped porch. Many southern homes had detached kitchens to cut down on the  heat in the house and to protect from fires.

Holmes County Dedication Sign

The site of the Meeker home is the site of the home of Elliot and Ann Sharon today. Their homestead also included the property for all the homes  on the west side of highway 79 North of those on Lisenby Drive: The Coates’, The Moores’,The Segers’, Northdale Subdivision, the homes of Fudgie and Syble Middlebrooxs, Brad and Debbie Sims Baxter and our home and on the east of 79, the homes of Barry and Fran Fuller, Boddy and Ruth Bellot, and the Paul house.

     The safe was built, I am sure after Mr. Meeker married Mary Young.  He was living in a one room cabin with two side rooms and a fireplace at the time, but built the kitchen where Mary Meeker cooked so many delicious meals. When daughter Pearl, my mother in law, a school teacher was about 18 the family built the 2 story shaker-style addition and she lived in a tent while the addition was being built. 

     Mrs. Meeker was well known for her homemade yeast rolls.  This was a staple in their home as cornbread was to the people in the south. Jack said that she grew the hops to make the yeast for her bread and often used the liquid from where she had boiled potatoes to moisten her yeast dough.  He  has fond memories of just “happening” to drop by his grandmother’s house about the time she was taking a batch of her homemade rolls out of the wood stove oven.

     The Young family migrated here from Wisconsin and Russley Meeker came here from  Indiana so their eating habits were quite different from the locals. The older Tison Girls, Ruth and Etha said they were often taunted with calls of “Yankees.”

     The old safe we restored is built of one and one/quarter inch thick cypress boards with shelves that were one cut 15 inches wide. It sat on one side of the long handmade dining table and held pans of milk waiting for the cream to rise to be churned into butter and cottage cheese from the clabber. Serving dishes, baking pans, tableware and etc were stored in the safe. Leftovers, jams, jellies, syrup, and teaspoons in a wide mouth glass container sat on the oilcloth covered table.  Over that was a cotton feedsack neatly hemmed and starched and ironed. Grandma Meeker’s was probably edged with crochet lace.

       Home Canned fruits and vegetables were stored in a dirt floored storage building  along with seeds saved for planting, lard and other supplies. I have a gigantic gourd with a lid that is shellacked for  preservation which I suspect that Mr. Meeker brought from up north and used it as a storage container.  I drag it out for fall decorations, though over the years it has suffered a crack.

     I am pretty sure that the safe we worked on has little monetary value, though I had an offer to buy it, but it harks back to a simpler lifestyle that today’s young people can’t even imagine. It brings up many memories for us in an older generation, however. I am glad I found a place where it can be put to use.  Our daughter graciously accepted it and uses it in her home office. She actually accepted the job I did in finishing it without any desire to do it over.

(I am submitting this bit of family history in commemoration of Jack Tison’s 95th Birthday.  As he was growing up, many locals often called him “one of the Meeker boys.”)