By C. Aileen Blaine
The first thing you may notice when you arrive at Grandma’s is the door with the worn paint. It squeaks hello when you enter and will whine goodbye when you try to leave. Up three steps, and you’ll enter the beating heart of the home: the kitchen.
It is not a large room by any means, less than 100 square feet, but there’s something about the Americana wallpaper, dish towels and knick-knacks that keep it from seeming anything but cozy.
There are many wall hangings encouraging you from their various places.
“Live, Laugh, Love Often,” say some.
“Peace, Love, and Joy,” say others.
There are a lot of things that are wonderful about Grandma’s kitchen, but arguably the most wonderful is the view from the window above the sink. From there, the backyard can be seen, full of lush grass in the summer and snowbanks in the winter. When it rains heavily, the water pools in the low spots, sometimes so deeply a family of ducks can glide in, their orange landing-gear feet stretched in eager anticipation.
The animals can’t see you from where you stand at the kitchen window, and they’ll eat and play for hours, undisturbed. Always full of seed, the bird feeders are very popular among both the birds and squirrels. Sometimes, a squirrel will prance about the yard with mischievous flicks of its tail, scattering the birds with its sudden movements. You might be tempted to scold it, or you may be content to simply watch. A family of rabbits sometimes visits on cool summer mornings, and they eat the clover that grows in the lawn, eyes still keen to the smallest of movements visible from the kitchen window.
There’s no dishwashing machine, so after each meal the red dishpan comes out from under the sink, and then it’s filled with steamy, sudsy water. The sink gurgles when it drains, always thirsty for the bubbly, warm dishwater. Each dish’s face is washed gently by one person, then dried carefully by another. Meanwhile, discussions of all natures are had, revelations are made and stories are told. Some of the dishes are more than a hundred years old, and though they may be scratched and faded and chipped, they still make their appearances at holiday dinners, like old reliable friends.
Sundays are for baking in Grandma’s kitchen. Flour, sugar and cinnamon or sprinkles always end up spread all around the kitchen counter, but Grandma will never scold you for this. The cakes, cookies, brownies and breads produced by this delicious chaos all spend time rising in the toasty heat of the oven, whose warmth feels like a safe hug on a chilly winter day. You may be tempted to crack open its solid door to take a peek at the magic inside. The smells of cinnamon, chocolate and sweetness tantalize the noses of anyone nearby.
“It’s better than a candle,” you might say, “because it’s the real thing!”
The heat of the oven melts the candle that sits atop the stove, and its scents that change with the seasons always mix with the smell of the goodies cooling atop the stove. If you’re feeling antsy, you might be tempted to cut into the pan of brownies before they’re ready, but no one will scold you for it.
If the house is particularly quiet, while those inside are taking their Sunday siestas, the gentle humming of the refrigerator can be heard, giving a gentle warm breeze against the red tiled floor in front of it. If you stand on it long enough, your toes will be toasty warm. Family photos smile from the door of the refrigerator. Some of the faces are more familiar than others, for some have not been seen in many years, though they’re missed every day. These photos are held in place by the hundred-or-so magnets collected from the many travels and road trips made over the years. There are magnets from Niagara Falls, Washington D.C., Gettysburg, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and so many more.
The kitchen is the quintessential small and cozy place to be on a winter’s day, with the crockpot bubbling away with chili or a roast with vegetables. The smells of meat and spices will tickle your nose in a way that makes your stomach rumble even if you’d thought you weren’t hungry. In the summer, it is where watermelon is sliced, with its sweet pink flesh dripping from your chin to the counter. In the fall, it is where fresh apple pies are baked, with crumbs of flaky crust leaving you to wonder if perhaps you could eat the whole thing.
The holidays are always special in Grandma’s kitchen. Though it might be a small space, it’s never a constricting one. While the holiday turkey or ham roasts in the oven, busy bodies flit from stove to counter to sink to stove again, preparing those delicious side dishes with gusto.
“Ope,” you might hear, in true Midwestern fashion.
“Coming through,” you might hear, and you’ll be sure to watch that you’re not in the way of a hot dish or pan that smells oh-so-good.
The kitchen is where the candles on the birthday cake are lit, one flame for each year of the life celebrated. It’s where amateur bars of “Happy Birthday” ring out, where wishes are made when the candles are blown out.
No matter the time of year, it’s a place where memories are made. The kinds of memories that are like small pieces. Not much of anything by themselves, but they come together to form a beautiful tapestry, a fuller picture. A picture as full as your heart.