1962: The Rain, Mom's Kitchen, and Other Things
Rainy Saturdays weren't so bad; in the Pacific Northwest, a place where rain is a season unto itself, our old kitchen table was a place where lots of rainy day creativity happened. It was not only a great place to be when dinner wasn't being served, but for some reason, seemed to be the warmest room in the house. There was a certain peace listening to rain tap the window. I hand-squeegeed the glass to get a glimpse outside. Through silver streaks I saw our dog's dish turned upside down in the wet grass.
Raindrops striking puddles like bullets and heavily clouded skies only promised a cold and dreary day. On those cold days sitting at the kitchen table wearing pajamas and sipping milk flavored by my favorite Clanky Chocolate Syrup was the best place to be.
Our kitchen was like Heaven; every nuance, and every tale of mom-dom was told by appliances, counter utensils and other things that made the place uniquely hers. The red rose potholders, the white salt and pepper shakers with plastic fluted sides, and even the hand towels with yellow flowers and green fences were flourishes of mom. I loved the metal canisters she was so excited to get with S&H Green Stamps. There was even a white kitchen utility cart on wheels that held a variety of things that sadly escape me now.
Remembering Mom's Kitchen
Oh, for the many, many hours and days and years spent in Mom's kitchen, gathered around the table, sneaking cookies from the jar or washing dishes in the sink. I'd so love to return to those days-if only for a moment-and be near when the onions are getting chopped and the bread dough is being rolled out on the flour-sprinkled towel.
That old kitchen countertop was where love happened and many wondrous things were prepared. Those days and times are still embedded in my memories, and are as clear to me as any. The houses and places may have changed throughout the years, but for me, her kitchen has not.
There are moments when I can still hear the rain tapping against the window, or look out and see Autumn leaves fallen on the patchy grass of the backyard. In those warm moments, when heat is drifting up from the floor vent, I can hear the squeaking wheels of Mom's white utility cart as she rolls it over to a nearby outlet to plug in the toaster. On the entry wall near the light switch hangs a yellow phone with its coil cord all twisted and dangling.
Keepin' it Cool
We had an old Philco fridge with the pull handle that Mom hung her kitchen towel on. That towel was only meant for mopping up quick spills or drying our hands; it was to serve NO other purpose, (Mom's kitchen rule #1). In the heat of summer, that old pull-handle of the fridge blasted me with immediate coolness whenever I reached in for more Kool-Aid. With a suck of air, the inside light showed a plastic pitcher filled with just the right flavor.
On weekend mornings Mom made breakfast for us. I heard our metal toaster clicking away as the elements got hotter and hotter. The smells of toasted bread and fresh coffee from the percolator embodied the very essence of that small room that she claimed as her own territory. That relic fridge also housed other delights which now serve as memories carefully wrapped in Saran-wrap for me to enjoy.
Mom's electric skillet with the propeller-style steam vent that so fascinated me when I was young, lasted for decades after she bought it. We knew how to build things to last then! I still remember the smell of bacon frying and the sound it made whenever she put the lid on it to steam things.
Our Daily Bread
We had a roll top bread box where our bread was stored. Homemade bread and applesauce cake was also stored in there wrapped in plastic wrap and ready to be sliced whenever she put a piece in our school lunches. The sound of that sliding lid is as vivid to me now as it was then; the sounds I took for granted then, the sounds that painted my everyday world, would now top the hit parade. That bread box was the go-to place whenever a quick sandwich needed to be made, or whenever I was to put bread out on the table at dinner time. "Don't make a mess on that counter, if you do, clean it up."
Mom's voice rings out to me now, soft and gentle, even in her command, ever reminding me to be responsible for the things I do, and to clean up after myself. Of course I made a mess; of course I didn't clean it up, but left it for her to do; of course there were bread wrappers not sealed correctly, or caps not put on milk bottles. These are the days that have passed me by, and just once, I'd love to go back and clean up every spill and every mess. I'd fold every piece of unfolded clothing and follow every command disobeyed no matter how long it takes. This I would do gladly.
The Kitchen Cupboard
In the cupboard were boxes of cereal, a jar of peanut butter, A container of Nestle's Quik, the butter dish, pancake mix, and just about everything else that was edible enough to pass my culinary inspection. These were the things that made life worth living. There were the syrup containers and that sticky bottle of honey shaped like a bear that I loved so much; the boxes of Jell-O, the food coloring that I used to invade (because the red looked just like blood), and even some spices, like the cinnamon that was so delicious when sprinkled on toast.
In the kitchen canisters that we had through the years were the ingredients that great and loving things were made of: flour, sugar, coffee, and tea. Mom rarely drank tea, so she kept match books in it. The cannisters matched the bread box, and I can't remember if she bought them together as a set or not. It's quite possible she got them by saving up her S & H Green Stamps, something that spoke volumes of better times, and bring back wonderful memories for me. On Friday nights at the grocery store checkout, the cashier would give her several of them. Together we'd lick and paste them into the wish books.
Dinner is Served
Shopping at Tradewell, our local grocery market, Mom was able to collect an entire set of Currier & Ives plates and dinnerware. I loved these plates with all the etchings of old mills, icy-covered ponds, covered bridges and other places I always wanted to visit. Everything seemed to taste better when eaten from these plates. I guess even then, at a young age growing up in the sixties, I had a fondness for Americana, and the unseen places and times that happened before me.
I can recall her excitement when the set was complete; our first dinner at the table with the completion of her Currier & Ives collection was wonderful. The butter dish was fully complimented with a fresh brick of margarine, and even the C & I salt shakers stood like artistically etched sentrys waiting to be used for the very first time.
There are memories like ghosts creaking around forgotten eaves in the old houses I grew up in; they are welcome visitors, bringing home to me the sights, scents and the very touch of Mom's kitchen and the rest of the house. Every movement, every nuance comes back to me in memory; a displaced ashtray being re-positioned correctly; the slamming of the screen door and the creak of the spring; the precious notes of America's Songbook playing on her kitchen radio, and the chatter of the living room television set as dad sits in his chair smoking, patiently waiting for dinner.