The kitchen in this house was a special kind of hideous. I remember metallic tiles – blue over the sink and green over the stove. Is that right? The cabinets were light yellow. Nothing matched. I remember something being metallic orange but I can’t remember what. This is the kitchen in which I began to learn how to cook. I can remember being about seven and pouring a colander full of fresh, washed morels into a pan of melted butter. I remember scrambling the eggs and pouring them into another pan of melted butter. Then pouring the mushrooms over the eggs onto a plate for my father and I.
This is the house where I remember my mother snapping green beans into a colander while sitting on the couch then later dancing to “runaround sue” in the kitchen.
This is the time period when my father taught me how to make spaghetti sauce from scratch with jars of tomatoes, peppers and onions from his garden that my mother had canned. He liked to add hot chili pepper to his sauce. He taught me to pull big chunks of hamburger straight from the Styrofoam package, roll it into a ball, douse it in salt then eat it raw.
I remember having to do dishes all by myself from a very early age. I always saw this as a massive injustice then. Tonight, while having to beg, cajole and threaten my own children to help me with our dishes, I caught myself saying, “When I was your age, I had to do the dishes all by myself. No adult helped me.” And, as a mother of a 10 and almost 6 year old, I feel like it would actually be very good for them to have that responsibility. I’m sure (now) my parents thought the same thing.
Even though so much of what I learned from my parents about cooking and eating was in that kitchen (I distinctly remember my compulsive eating starting in that kitchen), whenever I think of “my mother’s kitchen” it is the kitchen my father created for her in the Bed & Breakfast they owned in Frankfort. Hardwood floors. Oak cabinets. A repurposed train station cabinet or something (I can’t remember exactly where it came from) for a gorgeous base cabinet. The “island” he made so gigantic that my sister-in-law Shelly nicknamed it “the mainland.” My mother’s baskets (my father was always vexed by her basket collection) hanging from every available ceiling space along with dried herbs and other plants. The tall jelly cabinet in the corner. The Hoosier Cabinet – the same one that sits in my kitchen today. And always the smell of something good to eat.
If MoJo’s Kitchen is meant to be a tiny virtual slice of my mother’s heaven (“to be remembered well by the people that you love”) then I imagine MoJo’s Kitchen to look like that Kitchen in “The Bear’s Inn.” And I imagine that my mother would not be alone in her heaven. I imagine her two sons and her husband and her daughter-in-law would be there too. I imagine her sister, Diana, drops by from time to time. I imagine her brother-in-law, Gene, does too. And her mother and father. And my father’s mother and father. And probably many many relatives I never knew or can’t remember. MoJo’s Kitchen can get crowded, people.
My parents only owned “The Bear’s Inn” for about 11 years but that house became central to my family’s story. We gathered there for weddings, Easters, Christmases, Halloweens, all summer long and Thanksgivings were the pinnacle. So many people would gather at Thanksgiving that we had to rent the church hall across the street to accommodate everyone. We had all kinds of traditions and rituals surrounding these Thanksgiving gatherings. The sweetest that I remember is the re-writing of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that the kids (mostly) would do. Every year, the lyrics were different but always about the family gathering and the people in my family. I don’t even know how many years that really was done but it was done enough years in succession that it’s still a tradition I remember.
I’m only recently becoming fully aware of how important our homes are to our families’ stories and the way our families’ lives play out. Much like my parents did, my husband and I have become accidental gypsies. We did not intend to have to downsize into the house we are currently in, but it happened. In our last home, we had plenty of room for anyone to come stay at any time – it was enormous and comfortable (if you didn’t have to worry about all the maintenance). In our new home, if we have guests, they have to get a hotel or we have to give up our bed or they have to sleep on our couch (and consequently be woken up by our children at the break of dawn). We simply don’t have room for our family and friends to come and go the way we would love to be able to tell them to. Someday we will again though.
And, honestly, I like our sweet little home for now. It takes me 30 minutes to clean the entire thing. Enough said. AND, our children can’t get into too much shenanigans without us knowing about it for too long because we are always right near each other. It is cozy and convenient.
And when I’m cooking in our kitchen, it isn’t just our tiny little forest-green and dark brown kitchen (colors my brother Mitchell loved, by the way, and laughed about me wanting to change), it’s MoJo’s Kitchen. It expands to fit as many people as I want.
Tonight I wanted to cook chocolate no-bakes for everyone. Everyone. And then I ate enough of them for everyone. Haha! I have the recipe in my mother’s own handwriting. I was taught to make these cookies by my brother Robert. I remember making them with my sister-in-law Beth in their first home. And, I remember the satisfied smile of my brother Mitchell after he’d eat them. Mitch loved chocolate. There is something trustworthy and sweet and down-to-earth about men who not only love chocolate but admit their love for chocolate openly. My husband loves chocolate. And I love that about him.
When I made those cookies tonight, I was cooking with love. Every bite I took of every cookie I ate was taken with love. And MoJo’s Kitchen seemed filled with happiness for a few minutes.
But cookies are not lasting happiness. Chocolate is nothing less than a gift from the gods, but it is not the kind of gift that will keep me or my family healthy. Cooking and eating with love will keep me and my family healthy. And if I’m going to cook and eat with love tomorrow, it will mean accepting that I can’t binge on cookies to get a temporary high every damn day. Okay. Okay.
I said I would do as little damage as possible, not none at all. ; )
May you love your kitchen!
May you love your home!
May you cook and eat with love!
Vaya Con Dios & Namaste!