MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN*

In my mother’s kitchen

at 1618 Sutter Street,

We all sat around an old white wooden table

that was covered with oilcloth,

and it was here that my older sister

and brothers and I

did our homework,

while my mother did the ironing

and a small Crosley radio  on top

of our refrigerator

was tuned to the radio “shows”

we listened to every night,

Shows like the Lone Ranger and

Mr & Mrs North,

The Shadow

and Lights Out,

and one of my favorites,

Baby Snooks;

These programs were on every day

and every night

along with shows like Jack Benny

and Amos and Andy.

There were dozens of these programs

which we listened to

while working on essays or

our arithmetic lessons.

My mother’s kitchen was not,

actually, a very large room,

but along one wall, on the

left side,

There was a stove and a

tall narrow cabinet in which

my mother stored things like

spices and bottles of vinegar

and Kitchen Bouquet;

next to this cabinet was

a large built-in cupboard

with curious stained glass,

doors where dishes were stored,

then an open space,

beneath which was a large drawer

where all sorts of things were tossed

from rubber bands to Wilson Evaporated Milk

labels (which could be redeemed for free things

such as pot holders or dish towels) as well as

paper clips an crayons and bobby pins,

pencils, erasers and old used envelopes,

as well as my mother’s one and only cookbook,

Ida Bailey Allen’s Service Cookbook that she

bought at Woolworth’s for a dollar,

a pair of scissors, and World War II ration books

for each of us that she kept long after the war

was over.

When the War was over and anytime you needed

something like string or a rubber band, you looked

inside the kitchen drawer.

Next to this big built-in kitchen cupboard

another large cupboard was beneath it

where, I suppose, pots and pans were

kept, and then there was a space –

not very large – that served as a pantry,

for canned goods. My father ingeniously

cut a square hole in the floor to connect

us with the basement, in which

there were other cupboards my father

had built.

my mother could take laundry

from upstairs and bring it down

stairs to toss into this hole to

save her some time and effort.

The washer and dryer were in the

basement.

Once, my brother Biff got stuck

in the hole when we were playing

hide & seek.

There was a back door outside of

which there was a box where the

milkman left bottles of milk.

Back inside, next to the back door

there was a window and in the corner

the refrigerator. A long wall, including a window,

was on the right wall where we had a mangle

ironer that my mother rarely used.  it was

a catchall for things piled up on top of it.

Then there was the fourth wall opposite

the back door, where the kitchen sink

was, where my sister, brother and I

washed, dried and put away dishes

and learned the lyrics to popular songs

from a weekly songbook that Becky

bought each week for ten cents from

Carl’s Drug Store.

This was my mother’s kitchen where

we ate supper every night at 6 O’clock

sharp and you did not eat if you were not

at the table. I never missed supper and

sat at my mother’s right, Becky at my right,

and on the other side of the table, Bill

first at mom’s left, Biff in the middle, and

Jim at Dad’s right. Biff was frequently late

for supper, for whatever reasons and got sent

upstairs without supper–he didn’t suffer for

it because I and some of the other siblings

would sneak things up to him. He laughs

about it now, saying he ate better than all

of us.

It was in my mother’s kitchen that I began to

learn how to cook, studying the recipes  in the

Ida Bailey Alley cookbook and making sure we

had all of the ingredients in the pantry.  It was

in my mother’s kitchen that I began making

muffins and brownies, peanut butter cookies

and cookies called Hermits, and another called

rocks. I discovered early on that if you could read recipes,

you could cook and bake.

It was also in my mother’s kitchen

that I began to write stories on an

old Underwood typewriter

that my father bought for my

brother, Jim, and me to use. It was

too heavy to carry upstairs so I typed,

using two-fingers, while sitting at the kitchen

table.  These are some of the things I

remember about my mother’s kitchen.

It was, I think, the hub of the house.

Sandra Lee Smith

As written June 5, 2010

Updated September 6, 2018

*Sandy’s food note:  It occurred to me, after writing and re-writing the above, that I didn’t mention anything about the kitchen on Mulberry Street, Where my parents bought a newly-built house around 1955 or 1956.  I’m sure I must have baked cookies or experimented with recipes in the Mulberry Street house–but I never developed the kind of attachment that I had throughout my life to the kitchen on Sutter Street.  Also, I only lived in the Mulberry street house for about 3 years. Shortly after graduating from high school in June of 1958, I got married– primarily to leave  home.  It may have been the hub of the house when my sister Susie was born and grew up in the Mulberry Street house but it was never the hub of the house for me, the short time I lived there, albeit unwillingly.

 

 

 

narrow built-in cabinet

 

 

 

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