Does an inanimate object have a life?

Don’t scoff. If you ask most people to name their most treasured possession, you’re likely to hear heartwarming tales of an old baseball glove, a Barbie doll, a tattered old woolen hat that Grandma knitted in one night, or some other item whose value resides not in the head but deep in the heart.

This is the story of a kitchen pot.

A few months ago, Steve and Judith Hill were deep into downsizing from their decades of marriage – they’ll celebrate their 50th anniversary next year – when they ran headlong into a tough decision.

What to do with the family’s favorite cooking pot?

Old doesn’t even begin to describe it. To the best Judith can remember, it came into her family’s possession in Hawaii, where her father served in the Coast Guard back in the 1950s. It followed them with each transfer, from Hawaii to California and, ultimately, to Maine.

When Judith married Steve in 1971, her parents helped them get established by passing on various household items. Including the pot.

Photo by Steve Hill

Steve, who does a good amount of the family cooking, loved the thing. Made of durable aluminum with a tight-fitting cover, it was the perfect size for making …

“Everything from soups and chowder and chili to lovely Cape Elizabeth corn,” Steve said in an interview Wednesday. He called it his “go-to pot.”

At some point, the constant use and passage of time claimed the pot’s two plastic handles. Undaunted, Steve found a used pair somewhere, screwed them on tightly and kept right on cooking.

Steve’s and Judith’s three boys grew up and embarked on lives of their own. Five years ago, the couple moved from their longtime home in Cape Elizabeth to a new place in Scarborough. With the home came a glass-top stove – and with that came a problem.

“Certain cookware just doesn’t work as well on those,” Steve said. “You know, it would kind of get jiggling and dancing across the stove. The same thing with our longtime Revere Ware. So, we replaced the Revere Ware. But we hung onto the pot.”

Then came the recent downsizing – and Steve’s and Judith’s reluctant realization that the pot, culinary icon that it may be, had outlasted its usefulness. But instead of the trash barrel, it went into a donations box along with other odds and ends in need of a new home.

“I don’t like to throw things away,” Steve said. “I wouldn’t have thought of tossing it out. That would be a waste. It still had a life to it, no doubt. It probably had outlived its life for this family, but it still certainly had a life to it.”

Little did he know.

Last week, as part of a volunteer crew with Greater Portland Family Promise, Steve helped move a refugee family from Africa into their new apartment on Sherwood Street in Portland. It was no easy task, what with the couch and box springs that had to be snaked up the stairway and the bunkbeds that needed to be assembled for the family’s several children.

At one point, Steve went from the bedroom to the adjacent kitchen to fetch some tools. And there it was, sitting atop the stove, ready for action.

His old pot.

The woman of the household spoke no English, so Steve was unable to explain to her why he was going nuts over a piece of cookware. But as he wrote on Facebook over the weekend, “Can you be thrilled to see a pot over 60 years old in someone else’s kitchen? Well I was.”

Since 2017, Greater Portland Family Promise has helped numerous families facing homelessness with housing, food, case management and, perhaps most important, a sense of community in what for many is a strange new land. Steve connected with the organization through the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church, of which he’s a longtime member, and has developed a strong sympathy for refugee families and those who have come here seeking asylum.

“I know a lot of people have all kinds of different opinions about that, but I just think that their courage and what most of them have been through, to come to a new land and not speak the language, it’s just amazing,” he said.

He’s not alone.

Since Steve sat down and told his story on Facebook – he titled it “The Pot” – dozens of people have applauded a tale that is, as one put it, “much more interesting than other pot stories.”

That’s because this story isn’t just about a pot. It’s about a cherished past, a challenging present and, we can only hope, a charmed future.

“Just think of the new dishes it will help create,” Steve wrote in his Facebook post. “Whether the recipes come from Africa or they are experiments with American cooking, another generation will be using this dependably old cooking pot. I hope it brings them as much joy and satisfaction as it has brought to our family over the years.”

More than seven centuries ago, the Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas had a thing or two to say about possessions in his seminal work “Summa Theologiae.” He wrote, “Man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need.”

Translation: Even an old, heavily used piece of cookware, inanimate object that it may be, has a place in the greater scheme of things. Maybe even a life of its own.

So, at 60-plus years and counting, long live The Pot.

And those it continues to feed.


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