A few shakes of salt

In a world of low-sodium options and salt-free alternatives, salt is losing ground as the spice of life, but don’t tell retired veteran Bill Waddell. There’s a collection of salt and pepper shakers displayed prominently along an entire wall of his kitchen, commemorating a humble life of love that began with his mother, Elva.

As a young girl, Waddell’s mother received a pair of ruby glass shakers from her grandfather after a visit to Watkins Glen. She held on to them over the years and when she came across a pair that was about to be thrown out at a local vintage shop, she added them to her ruby glass shakers. The pair quickly grew into Elva’s personal collection.

“We came from a poor family and could not afford much, but she would find 50 cents every once in a while to buy another set,” Waddell said.

It was a unique luxury for her to set aside a bit of money for little treasure hunts around Jersey Shore. Elva spent a great deal of her time in the kitchen, cooking for her family to the backdrop of the beloved salt and pepper shakers. She took pride in the collection that showcased quite the variety of housing options to deliver seasoning. The collection became a family affair and Waddell built two wooden cases as a teenager to display his mom’s growing collection.

The pieces evolved from traditional glass sets to kitchen appliances, forest animals, fruits and vegetables, national landmarks and an assortment of animals. The creativity puts ordinary pairs into question. Why have a simple glass pair of salt and pepper shakers when there’s a set that commemorates Smokey Bear? Family members brought back souvenirs from any and every vacation for Elva to commemorate in her collection.

In 1950, Waddell met the love of his life at the local skating rink.

“She was from Lock Haven, I was from Jersey Shore, and she wasn’t suppose to be messing with boys, but next thing you know, we were married,” Waddell said.

Smitten at first sight, Dot was 15 and Waddell was 19, they wed at his family’s home a month before he was deployed to Korea.

Growing up on welfare and food stamps, Dot knew how to prepare three meals for her new husband – fried potatoes, stewed tomatoes and candied beans – because that’s what the government handed out on food stamps. While Waddell fought in the Korean War, Dot lived with his parents in Jersey Shore and Elva taught Dot to cook.

“She was the kind of cook that never measured anything, but just threw in this and that until it was just right,” Waddell said of his mother’s cooking style. “She was a fabulous cook.”

Dot also began collecting with Elva, accompanying her on trips to the store and searching endlessly for an elusive ironing board set of salt and pepper shakers they had caught a glimpse of once, but never again.

When Elva passed in 1973, Dot could not bear to see the beloved collection dismantled. She coordinated a wall in her own kitchen and Waddell built additional wooden cases to display the family treasures. The legacy was passed and the collection continued to grow in the memory of Elva.

“We went to thrift stores, garage sales, even auctions, a lot of auctions. I knew all the auctioneers by name,” Waddell said.

The shakers are organized by category. Even the mini pair of coffee pot shakers have their place on the wall, while the ruby glass shaker that started it all stays behind a glass buffet in the center of the kitchen.

“I’ve got a few,” Waddell said of his collection. “There were 411 pairs at the last count.”

At 83, Waddell hasn’t actively collected since his wife passed in 2010, but the collection’s prominent presence among pictures of children and grandchildren permeates throughout the house.

We are in the legacy that we leave behind and sometimes that legacy becomes the centerpiece of a household, which is the case in a quiet home just off Main Street in Jersey Shore.