I’ve been listening to the Podcast, Your Mama’s Kitchen, where Michele Norris expertly chats with famous guests about their childhood kitchens, recipes, meals, traditions, and of course, Mamas and Grandmamas.
It has me thinking about my childhood kitchen in the drafty, farm-house parsonage owned by Mt. Pleasant Christian Church. It was the place where Mom Maggie was in charge, where she expressed her creativity, skill, and masterfully spoke her love language. It was the place where I felt surrounded by great abundance. It was the place where my mom performed magic, stretching dollars to feed our family of five and so many guests.
A Mixed Bag
As with most things that loom large from childhood, I have a mixed bag of memories from our kitchen. I was often scolded and shooed when I was being annoying those higher on the food chain than me–which was everyone. It’s where I shared dishwashing duties with my two older sisters. It’s where I pushed my hand through the glass of the back door when they locked me out trying to get me in trouble for going outside to play while the dishes drained.
It is at our kitchen sink where I stood, dish towel in hand, when one of those indelible conversations of my youth occurred. My oldest sister was talking about a young girl in our community who was suffering the shame of teen pregnancy. She quizzed me, “You know what that means she did don’t you?”
“Yes,” I said. “F*ck.”
She flipped, informing me in no uncertain terms that wasn’t what nice people called it and if she ever heard me say that word again, she’d tell Mom.
It’s also where we spent winter mornings watching Maggie fix hot breakfast while standing over a register that ballooned our nightgowns with warm air. We somehow learned while standing on the register, if we touched the metal trim on the countertop with one hand and the refrigerator handle with the other, we could feel an electrically charged buzz. It was a trick we felt proud to show visitors.
Our kitchen table was the classic rectangular, gray speckled Formica top with aluminum trim and legs, popular as retro today.
It’s where you’d find the five of us every, single, night at 6:00 sharp to share a full, balanced, hot meal. It’s where my family sat watching as I excitedly ran to the refrigerator retrieving a surprise dessert, my first ever jello mold. In my haste, the entire blob slid off the plate and onto the floor. I bawled while my mom scooped it back onto the plate, repaired the damage as best she could, and passed it around the table.
It’s where my dad read The Indianapolis Star aloud while my mom cooked and where my sister told on me for getting into trouble at school. It’s where I was quizzed on my multiplication tables and where my sister and my dad put together a raccoon skeleton for her science fair project. It’s where many a final sentencing was handed down and where we waited to grab a hot-out-of-the-oven Bisquick biscuit while my dad said a prayer.
We were not allowed to serve anything in its original container, a pickle jar never made its way to our table. I knew where the fork went in a place setting and how to fold a napkin before I could read. Pre-microwave days, leftovers were heated in a pan on the stove. All three vegetables, the bread, and the meat were dished up to be passed, family style.
Remember, we had no dishwasher.
The Dining Room
Our biggest meal of the week was “Sunday Dinner,” a feast served right after church, often in the dining room with guests. Walking in our back door to the smell of beef roasting slowly in the oven was the norm. I don’t think I considered what my mom had to do to prepare this feast before we left for church because it was just what she did. Every Sunday. I was more worried about the torture I endured, starving while she mashed potatoes, stirred gravy, and baked biscuits.
We always had dessert. If it was just us, we might have banana pudding or Fruit Cocktail Cake. But when we had company, we had pies.
My mom was famous for her cream pies. Usually coconut cream, or my personal favorite, butterscotch. I’d watch her spoon the filling into the crusts, saying “that’s enough, that’s enough,” hoping she’d leave a spoonful in the pan for me. Her pies were both gorgeous and delicious, and were a prize find at potluck dinners. She made them as gifts for special friends and I often requested a pie for my birthday. She made it look easy.
Throughout her life, my mom lived in six kitchens. Really, there were seven, but there’s one I don’t count. That’s another story for another day. Anyway, I can’t picture any of the six void of activity or lacking in delicious choices. It’s where she set an example for her three daughters, hosting, cooking, practicing the art of presentation, and loving through food.
Maggie’s kitchen was her command center. The place where she was most skilled and confident. It’s where it happened, mostly–that mixed bag of my childhood.