Excavating the Kitchen

This summer, I got a new kitchen. After years of repairing the bits of a house that no one notices–furnaces, roof, windows, siding–I finally got to tackle the one room I have wanted to change since I moved in. The kitchen.

Kitchens exude meaning. The picture  of the new kitchen on my Facebook page (see below) received more ‘likes’ than anything else I have ever written, posted, or linked. In ancient Greece, Hestia, the goddess we know the least about, purportedly gives up her seat on Mt. Olympus to Dionysius to maintain decorum, prevent conflict. She receives a preliminary tribute and sometimes the first and last wine at feasts long ago. Her name means ‘home and hearth,’ and she tends the Olympian hearth, becoming the symbol of hospitality, a central value of ancient Greek culture, with its set of rules to preserve peace in an inherently violent-laced world–for instance, eating a meal together bonds guest and host in a pact of peace, so before discussing business, they would eat. In fact, of course, hospitality is a central value of all cultures, for it defines how we interact in gracious ways to maintain social order.

And the kitchen has become synonymous with the concept of hospitality. It means warmth, comfort, food. Sometimes, the best parties are the ones where everyone ends up in the kitchen. But this summer, I also realized it symbolizes a life. It reveals autobiography. Packing up, sorting out, discarding the contents before the renovation unfolded layers of my life. By now, of course, the early, cheap pots and pans of young adulthood are long gone as are the bottles, the sippy cups, the impossibly little spoons and forks of small children. The plastic plates with bunnies on them have long since passed on to others. Those eras in my life faded years ago. But even now, past midway in life, with children grown and gone as well, I rediscovered other layers.

Over a hundred cookie cutters–from reindeer and Christmas trees to a whole gingerbread family and a cowboy boot. We used to make sugar cookies all the time, for Valentine’s Day, for Easter, just for fun. And of course, at Christmas, we rolled and decorated hundreds and hundreds of cookies to give out as presents, to lay out on plates Christmas Day. I rarely make cookies now–I keep the tree, the star, the holly leaf, and a set of hearts in varying sizes. But the rest go. The same with all the extra cake pans and various pie tins. One really only needs a few baking items, not thirty years’ worth.

Even appliances begin to stack up, stashed into cabinets, useless, with old food slops glued on. Out went the blender, out the bread maker. The home and hearth of a house full of children gives way to the quiet supper of late middle age.

Then again, I have a set of child-painted crockery–bowls, plates, mugs, sugar bowl–from Saturday afternoons and birthday parties at pottery shops where you painted on the decorations and picked up the fired objects a week later. Some are cracked, some, the muddled work of a five-year-old, with cross-outs and funny birds and letters. Wrapping them up, I could not pass them on. There is something sacred about the drawings of little hands. I put them away for safekeeping.

In the end, I forge a compromise with my old self and my new kitchen. A drawer for tea and comfort. A corner for old cups. Together we find space and time.

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