Man’s collection of rolling pins brings back fond memories

(Courtesy photos/Jeanne Barber)

(Courtesy photos/Jeanne Barber)

Dave Carlson has always had an appreciation for the simple things in life.

A bubbling brook with plentiful fish dancing to and fro.

Wildlife nervously tiptoeing their way across an open field.

And mom’s home cooking.

Simple things?

To Carlson, the more simple they were, the more spectacular they were, too.

“When mom passed on years ago, one of the things that was handed down to me was her ole’ rolling pin,” said Carlson, 89, of Manistee. “I have a couple others that were given to me by my aunts and uncles after that, too.

“A rolling pin, imagine that. Pretty simple, don’t you think? But that rolling pin brings back so many memories of mom baking in the kitchen – rolling out pie crusts, cookies, and more. I look at the rolling pin today and I can still see her standing in our kitchen down in Indiana, and making something very special for us.”

That simple wooden rolling pin meant so much to Carlson that, over the years, he’s collected dozens of others.

“Back in my day, and long before that, the rolling pin was a necessary gizmo to have,” he said as he pulled his mother’s rolling pin close to his chest. “It was simple, was usually crafted of one kind of wood or another, but it had a very specific purpose that made life a whole lot easier for the cook of the family.

“Cooks today – real cooks and bakers – still use rolling pins. They always will. There are a lot of different kinds of rolling pins, used for different things, but in the end, they all pretty much do the same thing.”

Carlson has in his collection rolling pins made of wood, porcelain, stainless steel, and even glass, the latter of which are highly desirable by cooks and collectors, he said.

“The glass rolling pins can be quite rare,” Carlson said. “Some of them you fill with water – cold water – to make your work even easier.”

A resident of the Manistee area for about the past 50 years and who worked in retail most of his life, Carlson was born and then raised during the gripping years of the Great Depression near Morocco, Ind.

Like many Americans, the Carlson family lived off the land. Young Dave enjoyed fishing and hunting – just being out and about in the outdoors, in general – and searching for Indiana arrow heads.

Topped off with a hand-painted pin, this stack of rolling pins shows how they can differ in simple design and structure.

Topped off with a hand-painted pin, this stack of rolling pins shows how they can differ in simple design and structure.

“Some might call my early years boring,” he said, smiling. “But I kept myself busy. I liked hunting muskrats, mink, and other small animals. I liked fishing. I liked watching mom bake for us.

“Back in those days, everyone baked their own goods. So, something as simple as a rolling pin became a needed and cherished item to have. It was as needed as guns were needed for hunting, and rakes and shovels for (working the soil).

“Thank God we grew up on a farm,” he said. “Because what you didn’t have, maybe your neighbor did – so we’d help each other out, a lot. We delivered a lot of homemade butter, and sometimes, we even delivered mom’s baked goods. It was tough times, but I remember them for being good times, too.”

A U.S. Navy veteran who is a member of the Greatest Generation – he served on the escort carrier USS Thetis Bay in the South Pacific, and even flew in a legendary Avenger bomber – Carlson said he’s “never really collected anything, other than dust,” in his life.

But there were the days when he was a youngster when he slowly walked the trails and river banks where his family lived in Indiana, searching for arrow heads. And he found them, too, perhaps as many as 800 or so during his young exploring days, most of which he shared with family and friends. Some of those arrow heads, he said, were hundreds of years old, and perhaps even 1,000 years old, or older.

“Native Americans had been in the area where I grew up long, long before the European settlers came over,” Carlson said.

Carlson places three rolling pins on his table — one made of marble, one of wood, and another of glass.

Carlson places three rolling pins on his table — one made of marble, one of wood, and another of glass.

He still has several arrow heads today, many of which he keeps neatly organized in a shadow box and hanging on his living room wall, arrow heads that he first displayed as a sixth-grade school project about 78 years ago.

“I used to look at each (arrow head) and wonder about its history – what was it made for, was it used?” he said. “And there it was, made out of a simple rock.

“That’s the same way it is with rolling pins, at least the early ones. Most of (the early ones) were made by hand – nothing fancy, just made for one purpose.”

Shelley Doyen, owner of The Ideal Kitchen in downtown Manistee, laughed when asked if rolling pins are still sought after by local bakers.

“Oh my gosh, yes,” she said. “You gotta have a rolling pin. (In the old days) they were pretty simple, but today, they make a lot of different ones – different sizes, different weights, different materials, different designs.

“I kind of like the marble ones, because you can cool them, or chill them, when needed. But no kitchen should be without a rolling pin, of one kind, or another.”

Carlson said he no longer goes looking for rolling pins to add to his collection, but added that if he sees one that is unique in nature, he might buy it.

“I especially like the older ones, though it’s pretty hard to tell just how old they might be,” he said. “Like I said, I like the simple ones, like the ones mom had. They’re the ones that really make me wonder what they were used for, and the families they served.

“It’s been an interesting hobby to have, to say the least. My mom lived to be 90-plus – a good life – and to have her rolling pin means a lot to me.”


Posted by David L. Barber

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He contributes columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at

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