The uppermost couple of inches of ground have thawed, but the underlying frost stretches to a depth of 18 inches or more. And then you have days marked by dark brown mud, the kind of mud that ensnares vehicles up to their axles and serves as the beginning of stories swapped at the cash register of our Agway in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
When mud-season mud dries, it leaves a chalky, caked residue on the palms of your hand and crusty clods on the soles and sides of your boots.
I used the inventories to “walk through” the house of the dead, seeing everything that the committee saw as they noted, tallied, and evaluated the detritus left behind at death.
The earliest European houses in my part of New England were two-room affairs: the Hall (think ), where the family did most of its eating and sleeping, and the Great Room, where they worked during winter months.
In New England we have mudrooms because nature provides us with an entire season dedicated to mud.
The weeks between the last real snow and the first 50-degree days are interminable.And that is always the most interesting part of the inventory, because it is where the surveyors find the most random items: “a box of old junk,” “some broken tools,” and in one document, memorably, “a parrot in its cage.” Out of sight, out of mind: the lean-to was the original junk drawer where the household’s funk accumulated.As landowners grew wealthy, they built more substantial dwellings.That’s mud time, our fifth season, which is just coming to its end.The lingering odor of poisoned rodents decaying under the mudroom, their open-air graves marked by middens of broken medicine bottles, pottery shards, and withered corncobs accumulated over the last century.I don’t think the first European settlers were terribly concerned with mud.I spent a lot of time peeking into their houses like a creepy, time-traveling voyeur. I wasn’t that good at standing in front of a classroom of students whose interest level could be rated as mild, but my research provided me with an excuse to while away a winter’s day studying 18th-century probate records.This evolved into a mudroom, targeted mainly at kids in raincoats and muddy boots who could leave the unpleasant trappings of the exterior world behind before entering the ambience of suburban hearth and home.The mudroom evolved with 1950s house forms that heralded a revival of colonial architecture—“Cape Cod” houses, gambrel-roofed Dutch colonials, and blocky shapes evoking garrisons on the western Massachusetts frontier.Now all of the household items that weren’t worthy of deep storage in a barn or shed could be piled up, in a manner that was accessible, yet out of the public view.Although this arrangement continued for centuries, the term “mudroom” is a late entry into architecture-speak.