The room I miss most is the kitchen. So much activity went on there – the morning and evening meals, the coffee hours, the greetings and goodbyes. Almost everyone came into the house via the front porch. You passed the hanging wooden swing on the porch’s east end and walked up a step and through the kitchen door. The electric stove stood to the right as you entered and the wood stove to the left between two doors leading into the dining room.
Once a year my grandfather whitewashed the kitchen walls. Dirt or grease or dust or unfortunate flies or spiders were covered and became permanent wall texture. Below a strip of flypaper hanging from the light fixture, my grandmother plucked chickens and paid bills at the kitchen table. My grandfather sharpened his razor on the strap hanging on the icebox and shaved in front of a mirror by the sink. He was a slow and deliberate man – quiet in everything he did. We loved to watch him carve the Thanksgiving turkey. No sooner did he have all the plates filled and passed around (there were sometimes as many as thirty people at the tables) than someone asked for second helpings.
Near the white sink and the shaving mirror was a tall narrow gun closet, and next to that the door to the cellar stairs. I loved and feared the cellar. It was dark, cool, cobwebby, and full of dusty canning jars and barrels of hard cider (the farmers’ cocktail). But sometimes there was the excitement of new litters of puppies or kittens in boxes on the dirt floor. After the house burned the steps that felt so scary and dark when I was a child became a part of the outdoors – softened and reclaimed by nature.
On a counter near the icebox my grandmother mixed and kneaded dough and rolled crusts for pies. I could pull open a metal drawer filled with flour by hooking my finger into a metal ring on its front. On washing days the mangle was set up there. Clothes and linens dried outside on the clothesline were brought in and fed through the mangle, a large roller that pressed the sheets flat and saved much of the tedium of regular ironing.
The black and white photo above was, for a while, the only one I had of the kitchen, and for years I’ve thought of it as a not very colorful room. But recently my cousin Nancy gave me a picture taken in 1970 when she visited the farm. I love how sunny and bright the scene is, and I’m amazed at how much a bit of color enhances my memories.
The heart of the kitchen was the wood stove. It gave heat, hot water, and comfort to the room, and it baked hearty loaves of bread every Saturday and a pretty good turkey on Thanksgiving.
Below is a photo of Thanksgiving supper, 1948. The big dinner was at noon, but some of the family spent the afternoon and stayed for the supper of scalloped oysters, cold turkey, Aunt Glenna’s gelatin salad, and Aunt Betty’s much-anticipated chocolate covered cream puffs. In the photo I’m sitting next to mother, my grandmother, my uncle Francis and my aunt Glenna, and over my shoulder is a glimpse into the north end of the kitchen and a tantalizing peek at the icebox and the door leading into the back pantry.
On Wednesday: Names