Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – April 25, 2004
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – April 25, 2004 – This room is definitely the ‘heart of the house’. I sometimes wonder how many momentous decisions have been made sitting around the kitchen table, in homes around the world. When my brothers and I were small children we were assigned a place at the kitchen table.
The table was rectangular and our family of five sat comfortably around it. One end was pushed up against the south wall of the kitchen and the salt and pepper shakers had a permanent home there, along with a mug that held pens and pencils. Mike sat next to the wall and my mother sat next to him. For some unknown reason I had the chair at the head of the table. My father sat next to me and my oldest brother Eric was beside the wall directly across from, but not within striking distance of Mike. It was actually a brilliant set up.
Two parents separated three children. We ate three meals a day at that table. Breakfast, lunch and supper. The only day that was different was Sunday when we ate in the dining room, and on that day, supper magically became ‘dinner’. Almost without exception we had a roast beef with all the trimmings. Holiday fare was turkey, duck, goose or ham depending on the occasion.
As we got older we grew to enjoy supper in the kitchen, and we often sat around the table, long after the meal was over, discussing current events, school projects, books, personal triumphs or catastrophes and our hopes and dreams. My mother always had a cup of tea on the go and lingered over it, long after it had cooled. My father was usually the first to leave the table, returning to his workshop in the basement to complete a job for one of his customers. My brothers hung around a bit longer. My mother and I were usually the last to leave. Finally homework had to be finished and she would shoo me upstairs to my room and then get up to do the dishes.
When I finished university, my first apartment was the top half of a house on Lancaster Street in Kitchener-Waterloo. The kitchen would have been a bedroom when the house was used as a single family home. It was a huge room with a door that led to a back deck and a closet that I used as a pantry. I painted the room a wonderful bright orange and put up pretty floral curtains on the windows and door. I’d scrounged an old oak table and chairs from a second hand store.
My one extravagance was a set of heavy, white English stoneware with a cobalt blue trim. I would have made dinner for the Queen of England in that kitchen and never felt the need to apologize that it wasn’t grand enough. There is something about a kitchen that is soothing. After we’re up and dressed, it’s the room where we make morning coffee and start the day. It’s usually the last room I’m in before I go to bed. I put fresh water down for Augie and Ziggy and turn on the garden lights before I head upstairs for the night.
Whenever I entertain, the kitchen always becomes the centre of attention. Guests drift in and out of the room to freshen up an empty wine glass, check on dinner or ask if they can help with anything. Conversations inevitably start here and snippets of same are heard as people come and go. When it’s time to serve, everyone has a job, and the day’s preparations turn into a wonderful breaking of bread and sharing good food with friends. At the end of an evening, we usually find ourselves back in the kitchen for last minute chats as dishes are loaded into the dishwasher and wine glasses are washed and dried.
I’ve been in kitchens that cost a hundred thousand dollars and kitchens that have been painted and made funky, not with expensive designer decor, but with the owners most prized possessions and a dash or two of love and imagination. A truly great kitchen is a reflection of the person who owns it. I recall being in an amazing kitchen in a basement of a guest house in France. These people didn’t have a lot of money, but the kitchen was fabulous.
The house was built on a beautiful sloping tract of land with a stream at the bottom, so even though the kitchen was in the basement, it had a walk-out at grade level at the back. A thick Dutch door separated the kitchen from a stone patio with ivy covered walls. Small tables for two were scattered around the patio and coffee was served there first thing in the morning. Breakfast for the guests was served at a long harvest table right in the heart of the kitchen, with the family members bustling around with baskets of croissant and fresh coffee.
None of the chairs matched, plates, cups and saucers were a colourful mis-match of designs and styles. The tablecloth was a beautiful pattern of Provence colours and the napkins were fresh white linens. Old, chipped tea pots stuffed with fresh flowers sat at each of the table and candles flickered in small black lanterns at the centre of the table. It was utterly charming. Breakfast never tasted so good.
I’ve been in expensive ‘designer’ kitchen with appliances that cost more than my car, every imaginable kitchen toy on the market and dishes imported from Europe – but the kitchen wasn’t a true reflection of the owners, because they were more interested in impressing people than in creating a room that reflected their personalities. I’ve been to dinner parties where the host and hostess prepared a gourmet meal in a kitchen the size of a broom closet. My taste buds were happy for days afterwards.
I love the activity in a kitchen when the meal is being prepared and the wonderful aroma as food is being cooked and served. Every kitchen, expensive or modest, has its own charm. Of all the rooms in a house – old or new – great or small, the kitchen remains the centre of activity, a haven in difficult times, the place where a champagne cork is popped to mark a celebration, the keeper of family secrets and above all the heart of the home.