catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 8 :: 2008.04.18 — 2008.05.02


The Overflow Room

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
Romans 5:15

In my grandmother's farmhouse there was a room that as a child I didn't understand.  She called it the "Overflow Room."  It sort of frightened me, as I equated it to Mickey Mouse in the broom and bucket scene in Fantasia.  But it was her term for what we might today call a junk room.  Her term, "The Overflow Room," was more descriptive of her lifestyle than merely a place to hold excess possessions.

Things flowed out of this room, not merely into it.  This room was in the north elbow of a C-shaped house, past the guest rooms and before the garage.  One wall had a fireplace, but it was unheated.  When I was little, the room was a pass-through, providing shelter on rainy days between the garage and the rest of the house.  I didn't engage in activities here, I just became enchanted by the stories concerning this room.

Before I was born, Eva and Jakobs lived in this room.  They were from Latvia, people displaced by WWII.  I couldn't imagine how they did it.  The room was so humble in comparison to the others.  I suspect that they used the pump and the outhouse, but I never asked.  They left the farm for Kansas City, which had a larger Latvian community than our small Ohio town.  My grandmother would remark, "Jakobs wanted to join his people, but Eva didn't want to leave the farm.

The annual gift that flowed out of the Overflow Room was "Sand Tarts."  I only experienced them completed coming out of Overflow Room tins that had been carried to the kitchen.  My grandfather would set up a worktable and my grandmother would mix and roll butter and sugar dough with very little flour.  She would say, "When it's so thin I can see the board through it, that's when you cut the circles."  She also baked the scraps, which reminded me of holly leaves.

The pilgrimage from the cold prep room to the warm kitchen oven involved passing through two bedrooms, a bathroom and the living room, an annual journey she made many times to fill tins with gifts for friends.  Among her yearly offerings was one for Ben Woodfork, who lived in a part of town then called "White Heaven."  He had used a mule to dig a basement for the house and had built a garden wall with the glacial rock deposited there.  My grandmother would always include Christmas money with her gift, but would only leave the money if Ben was personally there.

As my grandparents grew older, labor saving devices took advantage of the electricity in the Overflow Room.  A freezer became employed to preserve the garden's produce, instead of canning and storing fruits and vegetables in the cool damp cellar.  When my grandmother acquired Alzheimer’s, often she would pick heads of broccoli and place them directly in the freezer without the benefit of blanching and bagging.  An electric dryer was added when she could no longer place the sheets on the line in the garden from the washer in the kitchen.

After her death, my sister and I shared the house with a woman who used to help my grandparents freeze corn and spinach from the garden.  My sister bought a potter’s kick wheel that she used in the Overflow Room, returning the overflow to the tradition of muscles-only production.  We weren't gardeners—she was a shopkeeper and I a therapist—yet the times of day regulated our schedules.  Our elderly arthritic friend would wait vigil in the kitchen until the photosensitive light by the barn went on, then she would cane her way into the hall and turn on the post lamp for us.

For me, the Overflow Room is a metaphor in many ways.  Eugene Peterson one of them in his prayer of exhortation in The Message: "This is what I want for you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I've revealed to you.  Ask in my name according to my will, and he'll most certainly give it to you.  Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!” (John 16:23).

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