The first kitchen I remember in detail would have to be my grandmother’s. It was tiny and held what I recall as an enormous, white sink. I’m sure the bowl of that sink was big enough to bathe a couple of babies and had a built-in drainboard. The pipes would rattle when you turned on the water. It was open underneath with a gingham curtain hung to cover the storage behind it. The gas stove always had a weathered cast iron pan sitting on top along with a tin can of bacon grease. Behind the swinging door that separated it from the dining room was a bank of cabinets and a counter that held a cookie jar. I don’t remember my grandmother being much of a baker, but there were always cookies in it – even if they were from the store. That room smelled of my grandfather’s cigarette smoke, bacon and biscuits.
I’ve occupied many kitchens over a lifetime. There was the college rental house kitchen shared by 5 people – and the only real cooking was done by Liza, the dietetics major who could magically make something edible out of the meager, and often questionable, contents of the fridge. There was the ‘kitchen’ in my first, post college apartment that consisted of a corner of a rectangular studio. I’m fairly certain the only cooking that kitchen ever saw was the heating up of frozen meals in the microwave. These were followed by various other apartment kitchens equally unused and unloved.
When Michael and I bought our house 30 years ago, we moved into a time warp. Everything was just as it had been built and decorated in 1965. My ‘new’ kitchen had a gold linoleum floor, a vinyl booth built into one wall with a formica table that matched the formica counter tops – complete with a little brown starburst pattern. We had a harvest gold refrigerator and an electric range that, when touched just right, would give you a little jolt of electricity. On the wall hung a bottle opener – the mouth of a donkey with 25 year old yarn hanging to resemble a mane. After decades of marriage, I’m not sure Michael has yet forgiven me for getting rid of the booth and the bottle opener.
That kitchen was transformed, many times over. In the 90’s, I wallpapered and sponge-painted. After one particularly bad shock from the stovetop, my tantrum brought in a shiny new gas range. As is the custom for my husband, we waited until the harvest gold refrigerator breathed its last breath to replace it with a new one – with an ice maker! The linoleum was covered with a less garish tile. The booth was removed and replaced with much needed cabinet and counter space.
This was the kitchen we lived in through babies and sleepovers. This is where we warmed 3 a.m. bottles and baked birthday cakes. It was the kitchen where we made Christmas cookies and left them out for Santa. It was the kitchen where we had our first dishwasher – compliments of Nana and Papa. That kitchen saw years of Tombstone pizza dinners and stove top macaroni and cheese. There wasn’t a lot of imagination going into family dinners at that time – function and cheap were the order of the day. And did I mention it was tiny? It was also the kitchen where I started hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner. My clearest memory of those early Thanksgivings is me standing in that tiny room, surrounded by all the guests. No matter how small the space is – everyone stays in the kitchen.
Another 15 years or so and we took the big leap and put an addition on our house. This meant a whole new kitchen. It wasn’t any larger than the old one, but with the walls torn down, it was opened to the rest of our living space and it seemed three times the size. New cabinets, new flooring, new counter tops and an island! It was amazing.
This kitchen was the scene of most of the teenage years. While Megan had gone off to college, our new kitchen was the source of team dinners and picnics, cast parties and pre/post prom gatherings for the younger two. It was where Nina went through her cake pop phase, where I first tried to make pies and where I again warmed 3 a.m. bottles – this time for Della and Dallas. It is where I found the joy of cooking with kids. I am sad to say I didn’t do enough of it when the girls were little – life was pretty busy just trying to stay afloat. Luckily, grandchildren give you a second chance. It saw Thanksgiving dinners grow from 15-20 people to over 30. And everyone still stood in the kitchen – but at least I could see daylight around them! This is the kitchen were I truly started to cook and bake.
And now, I am on the cusp of another kitchen. When we purchased our new home, it would include a remodel. A few weeks ago, demo began and I now sit with just finishing pieces left to go. I have no idea what this kitchen will bring. It is shiny new and has all of the bells and whistles I could desire. Della and Dallas are coming to sleepover next week – I’m sure they will help me christen it. Homemade pasta and cupcakes are planned. And in a few weeks, we will host Thanksgiving in our new quarters. It will be cramped and crazy. I have no idea how it will work, but then again, I never do and it always does.
Beyond that, the life of this kitchen is unwritten. It holds the promise of new gatherings, new events and new stories. Can’t wait…