For me, the center of my house was the kitchen. At first our kitchen was this dreadful afterthought of a growth hung onto the side of the dining room of our 1802 farm house. After some years, my parents put on “the addition”, a brand-new kitchen with windows to the outside, new appliances, darkly stained oak cabinets, and a table. The counters were made of white formica with lots of coffee stains, the floors of a pretty fleur-de-lis pattern. In order to build “The Addition” they had to cut down a large pine tree. The cutting of the tree very much upset our neighbors, but we really enjoyed the new kitchen. My brother made crepes, my sister made lasagna, and I made meatballs. I used these plastic recipe cards which came in a file box that I bought a few at a time. Appetizers, main courses, desserts. There were priceless 1970s recipes like beef and pineapple chunks. My mother begged me not to make it and told me my father wouldn’t like it. She was right.
From my center of the home, I see my siblings and I hastily eating breakfast and making lunches to rush out the door to catch the bus to high school. I see cans and cans of Campbell’s Soup on the pantry shelf, I see powdered milk, raisins, and oatmeal. I see 3 or 4 cats on the counters, not obedient enough to stay off, and a dog or two on the floor. I see a large plastic pail under the sink for compost, like we’re going to throw slop to pigs rather than vegetables to worms. I see dirty finger marks on the appliances. I see the door to the outside and there the piles of recycling, back when we could only recycle clear, green or brown bottles, and bundled newspapers in twine. I see our silent family dinners. I see the beginning of the end of my parents’ marriage.
From the center of my home I hear classical music my mother was always playing, specifically Pachelbel Canon, which she played often as she meditated. I hear my family walking around the 2ndfloor in different rooms. I hear the birds on the feeder outside the kitchen windows, the barking of all the dogs in the neighborhood. I hear the fire department siren at 6pm and my mother calling us to dinner by saying “wash your hands!” in German even though her German wasn’t really that good. I hear the cars coming in and out of the driveway, the deafening sounds of cicadas and crickets. I hear the splashing from the swimming pool and children’s laughter. I hear bones stretching and growing. Chocolate milk getting mixed with a spoon. The whistle of the teapot. My sister’s sewing machine chugging upstairs.
From the center of my home I smell pots and pots of black tea, cups of coffee, boiling potatoes, spaghetti sauce and cookies baking. I smell the trees and flowers drift in the open windows in springtime. I smell chickens roasting in the oven and even turkeys at Thanksgiving time. I smell the old people smell when my mother would invite seniors from the Old Folks Home around the corner who had no family to go to. I smell Dawn dishwashing liquid and Comet cleanser when I washed the white counters of the coffee cup stains. Spic and Span. I smell spilled beer from the parties my sister used to throw.
From my center of the home, I recall some happiness. I used to put on records and have little dance parties by myself. Michael Jackson, Bananarama. How loudly I could sing the Neil Young Harvest album, every song. I recall the blessed snow outside those windows which looked like an angel had come down to clean everything, and then we would go out and mess it all up.
Wow theres alot of awesome images here. Such rich details. Lovely.
Thank you Jo!
Love this. Keep it coming.
So that’s when your love of Michael Jackson started!
First the Jackson Five when I was very young, then the Thriller Album by MJ. (sniff, sniff)
I picked these wonderfully descriptive lines out after re-reading your essay yesterday, and then again – this morning:
“…sounds of cicadas and crickets. I hear the splashing from the swimming pool and children’s laughter. I hear bones stretching and growing. Chocolate milk getting mixed with a spoon. The whistle of the teapot. My sister’s sewing machine chugging upstairs.
From the center of my home I smell pots and pots of black tea, cups of coffee, boiling potatoes, spaghetti sauce and cookies baking. I smell the trees and flowers drift in the open windows in springtime.”
Every home, ultimately, is a rich admixture of joy and sorrow. In my experience, blame disappears over time, and is replaced with a deeper understanding of the times and context in which we lived. Thanks for sharing this with us.
Thank you, Kay. I change the first paragraph you shared to have the growing bones as the last sentence. I thought I was ready to publish and I keep changing it.