In the Kitchen 

Copyright 2005
by Beth Havey

Beth Havey, the author of In the Kitchen
All Rights Reserved

It didn t work out.

I made liver sausage sandwiches with mayonnaise for my children. I even garnished the top with circles of dill pickle, and my kids squished up their faces and asked that I NEVER serve that again.

Well, okay. It never would have happened except I was in a nostalgic mood. I was just remembering the lunches my mother prepared for us in our old kitchen. Back then kids came home for lunch.

My brothers and I ate grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup (and, Mom, please make it with milk!!). We nibbled warm chocolate chip cookies while my mother read to us right in the middle of the day - JANE EYRE, THE RED PONY

We d close our eyes and picture those other worlds, strain for the sound of carriages and horses hooves or the smells of hot sand and desert flowers. And then came that stomach churning sound - my mother slapping the covers of the book together.

We would trudge back to school with our heads hanging down and the dreams still lingering behind our eyelids.

The Old Kitchen Table... 
          Photo by Beth Havey, All Rights Reserved. It wasn't just the liver sausage sandwiches with mayonnaise, or even the grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup that kept my dreams alive at home. Mostly it was my mother s kitchen table that did that. It was a scarred mahogany library table which she had covered with red gingham oilcloth. It was perfect for rolling out dough, playing with finger paints, doing homework, or just sitting mesmerized by the red, blue, and yellow roosters strutting on the wallpaper above the green plaster dado.

There were way too many moments in my life when I escaped the memory of my math teacher s face or avoided my mother s admonishment to read the newspaper, and just sat, lost in the festive feathers of those bantam roosters.

The heart of our home was in the old kitchen. That s where we gathered. It was the kitchen we first stumbled into as toddlers clutching a baby bottle. It was the kitchen we ran into as children eager for Sugar Pops or to see the face of the hero on the Wheatie s box.

We ambled there as teenagers bringing our friends and perusing the contents of the refrigerator. It was the rule to complain about what was found, the rule to combine foods in taboo ways - peanut butter and egg salad - and then shriek with laugher.

There were many moments when my mother stood at the enamel kitchen sink, her back to us, struggling for a stern posture, stifling a laugh. My brothers and I knew what would come next - a penalty of sorts, a dictum from on high. She'd point to the blackboard she had nailed up over the sink where chores were marked off for each of us; we'd stare at the penetrating words - wash, dry, put away.

She'd dish out something punishing for the child of the moment - clean the hated greasy meat grinder used for making hash or scrub the wooden rolling pin sticky with dough.

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The kitchen was my mother s room. She filled the small space with her warm gestures and words, conducted those important talks around the dinner table, and she was always there to kiss us goodbye or hug us hello.

Any kitchen worth its salt could also become the center of the storm. One morning my older brother had fallen asleep over his Greek or Latin translation and now blamed my mother for sending him to a school that worked him to death. One morning I burned the toast. Three times. One morning my younger brother appeared crying - the newly assigned patrol boy was the neighborhood bully.

On those forever mornings chaos blocked out kind words, if any words at all. We forgot to help one another as we raced around the kitchen, bumping into things with that "mother threat" hanging over us - things would not go well for us if we dropped the half-gallon glass milk bottle on the floor.

Of course one day we did. Milk, laced with shards of glass, spread its long, white fingers everywhere while we scrambled for dish towels and cloths. To our collective surprise, my mother kept us; she did not send us to the dogs that fateful day - instead she frantically looked over our hands for cuts from the glass.

Often my mother turned on the static-laden radio to let in the real world. But we children didn t hear a thing. To us sitting sleepily at the kitchen table, life was idyllic. We heard only the rasp of the milkman s brakes, the jangle of bottles inside his metal basket as he came up the walk, the eggs chirping in the pan, and the bacon snapping and sizzling breakfast sounds that broke through the constant braiding of bird song.

I know now how much work went into making our kitchen so wonderful. My mother was a widow and earned our keep by typing insurance policies in the dining room. We took for granted her gift of security, as if we lived in some fairy tale with an enchanted rose thicket that kept us safe.

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The magic we felt wasn t derived from my mother cracking open an egg and finding a double yolk. Magic was her being there in that sheltering kitchen. I try to remember that is now my part in the recipe of love as I load the dishwasher or mop up the bowl of spilled cereal.

Despite the fact that my family often eats exotic takeout foods with nomenclature that didn t exist in my childhood, or the fact we now prepare whole meals with blenders and food processors in our gadget heaven - the kitchen is still where I gather my family around me. And it s there, like in my mother s time, where I try to make my children s empty be full again, providing encouraging words before a test, comforting advice about a friendship, and I dish out a thousand of those same hugs and kisses I got as a child all food for the journey.

I think back on the wonderful kitchen afternoons my children and I have already had, afternoons when there were no lessons or errands to run, no games - absolutely nothing on the calendar. Seeing them sit around the counter on the stools, attempting homework, tapping pencils, moving papers, producing occasional squeals and arguments as the phone rings, the microwave beeps, and a Game Boy hums intermittently it sets my heart afire with memories of how mother's kitchen used to be.

Oh, they aren t playing jacks or pick-up sticks, they aren t creating a new world out of Lincoln Logs, but it is still wonderful, a wisp of the old kitchen.

They have claimed a favorite stool and rattle around, giggling and smiling at me. The sky is still full of sunlit clouds and we can all hear a basketball thumping in the distance. I wipe the stove thinking any minute they ll shriek and run off. But instead, they stay, asking me questions, laughing, joshing me about my memories.

Yet as I begin to talk, I know they are eager to take in every word. I smile at each of them and then turn away suddenly, blinking. My gaze turns towards the bookshelf in the corner of this kitchen.

It is full of cookbooks, only cookbooks. I focus on it - I m sure there s space for a copy of the RED PONY, maybe even JANE EYRE. They d go well with foods of great comfort - like runny grilled cheese sandwiches and steaming tomato soup made with real milk.

*

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