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).
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?