Thursday, August 18, 2016

AUNT LENA'S KITCHEN




Despite their living in a much bigger town than the one I’m from, Aunt Lena and Uncle Ace were purentee Country-Folk, through and through.  They’d been raised way out in the hills, and later in life followed most of their children to “town” over in the Delta.   They were a lively, noisy brood, all  older than I and married by the time I can remember visiting.  The two daughters I looked up to so much and admired for their stylish ways and slim skirts and beautiful makeup, and thought of as almost my own age, were, as I just found to my shock in the 1940 census, 12 and 14 years older).

Aunt Lena was a soft round woman, in house-dresses and slipper-slide house shoes---a good-natured sweet woman with a big laugh and great love for her family.  I don’t know if I ever saw her without a big old useta-be-white bib apron, for her tiny house and even tinier kitchen were the hub of the family, and she turned out great platters of roasts and fried chicken, steaming casseroles and huge pots of several-vegetables-per-meal, as well as breads and rolls and three kinds of pie.   That place was a mad-house on Sundays, and we seldom visited then, for we’d go by on a weekday afternoon now and then, when we’d been to town to Safeway or an appointment.   Uncle Ace was Mammaw J’s brother, and we mostly visited during the three months a year that Mammaw was “ours,” as she lived a “quarter” with each of her four children in turn.  She’d stay a night or two with them, for their “spare room” seldom had a visitor with all the children living right there around town.  




And Sundays---I can attest to but few, and all those centered around that little hot kitchen and all that FOOD.   The girls were just beautiful, in their neat slacks and pretty blouses and jewelry, and had both married handsome young Italian guys.   They’d both learned a lot of their cooking from their mothers-in-law, and so we’d be invited now and then to a “Spaghetti Feed,” by Uncle Ace, as the girls had quite a way with such practically-unknown delicacies as Spaghetti and sausages, Ravioli, and Parmigianas, and they’d have the whole house perfumed with basil and oregano and garlic, as we all hustled to peel things and chop things and oh, boy, did I love to slice FRESH Mozzarella.  The oven and all four burners would be running full speed, and several platters of salads of already-grilled eggplant and herbs and tomatoes and artichoke hearts were sitting room-temperature awaiting the feast.  OH, to look into one of those ovens for a second---the blast of heat and the glimpse of that bubbling cheese atop the lasagna---what a tantalizing preview.



The kitchen was a little L-counter place, with an area at one end for a big yellow Formica table and chairs, pushed up against the wall for room to get around when they weren’t in use, and I still wonder now and then about that room.   They ate all their meals there, and it was such a strange, bizarre place to me that the memory has stuck.








The walls of kitchen and dining area were of a worn yellow beadboard, like so many kitchens of my grandparents’ generation, but that wall right over the table was like some Dali-dreamt bas-relief of decrepit farm tools and scythes and wrenches and hammers, one big old rusty saw that I remember vividly, and all sorts of awls and chisels and such.   This was not for some sort of “vintage chic” décor---these were REAL and rusty and hanging there right where they ate, til somebody needed one for a chore.  Maybe if it had been some kind of antique or vintage kitchen items---old black skillets are royalty, of course, and old molds and whisks possible in some forms of décor.  I rather like the new thing of having lace and pearls and a bit of something rustily-beautiful for a contrast, but this was junky old grungy stuff with dried mud on the blades and greasy handprints up and down the handles, just slung back on the wall right after use and left there.

Even the shapes of the things had faded into the paint, like outlines over the workbenches of those ultra-neat folks with everything on its peg with a neatly-drawn silhouette around.  It was WEIRD, and I’ve thought about it for years.  I  can’t remember a thing about the kitchen---not the counters or drawers or maybe there was a clock or calendar like my Mammaw had, or perhaps just a picture of something to look at while you worked.    Mostly I think about Aunt Lena---didn’t she ever think about wanting something pretty, or long for a smooth white expanse of wall just for the peace of it---the CLEAN of it?  

It boggles me that those folks who loved their Mama with every fierce  depth of their bones would leave that unsightly, dirty MESS in her kitchen to be the first thing she saw as she eased her heavy, swollen ankles in there every morning.  Didn’t they ever realize that she might long for flowers, or a pretty towel on a rack, or a shelf with something on it to enjoy?   

It was just THERE, and it was horrid, though Chris said at lunch that they could probably sell even the smallest piece of that junk for a hundred dollars today.   I hoped so much better for that dear, sweet woman every time I stepped in her door.   I know she had to want better, even if it was for somebody to take a hand for a couple of hours with a big rag and some Lysol.  

Isn't it silly the memories that can haunt you?  




6 comments:

Cheryl said...

Oh, dear friend! I LOVE the way you write...I feel like I was right there beside you...in those precious memories of yesterday! You should write a book. Oh, I would love to read it and savor every page! You are so gifted....and now I am hungry and tempted to spoil my diet at this late hour reading about all of that food! I so enjoyed my visit here tonight! God bless you abundantly.

Beverly said...

I am totally there with you on this one, dear Rachel. Eew! There was nothing about that wall assemblage that could have been called pretty. Maybe your sweet aunt had learned to just block it out, but wouldn't it have been wonderful if she could have gazed upon some pretty.

handmade by amalia said...

beautifully written, you bring the past to life.
Amalia
xo

Jeanne said...

Hi Rachael, What a warm and loving person your Aunt Lena was and it does make one wonder if she even realized what an unsightly mess that wall was. It was just her life and she accepted it. Certainly she baked and cooked great meals and maybe that was what she loved to do. Bless her heart, is all I can say.

We had friends that were the salt of the earth and we had to go to their home to pick up one of her kids for some reason and I could never forget what her home looked like. Not a piece of furniture was cleared off from piles of laundry, Her kitchen was covered with dishes that had to be days of accumulation. She offered us a cup of coffee and I was paralyzed with the idea of drinking anything in her kitchen. I said yes to be polite and when she poured coffee in a paper cup I was so thankful. That memory has never left my mind. Yikes.

Loved your story as always.
Love you too my sweet friend.
Jeanne

A Super Dilettante said...

Hello my dearest Rachel,

Thank you so much for your lovely message which arrived into my email box. It's always splendid to hear from you. Your stories about your families and relatives always put a smile on my face. You have the most amazing memory which I think is the testimony of a good writer. You can describe the scent of cooking or the kitchen utensils in the most detailed description. Your writing always transports me to another world.

I have been away for so long, my dear. All is well with me and I am making the most of my summer. But now that the summer is almost coming to the end, I should be back to write my blog some time next month (September).

In the meantime, may I say once more how wonderful it is to hear from you and may god bless you.

Best wishes, ASD

Kim S. said...

How utterly odd! I am constantly amazed at how 'loving families' can ignore the incredibly easy things that would make their loved ones lives better.