Home - Summoned from the Pantry

September 29th, 2009

The pantry and the back pantry are located underneath the stairs, tucked away just off the edge of the kitchen. The pantry is a fairly self-evident kind of space; long, narrow, lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. The shelves themselves hold a variety of mysteries, from hand-ground whole-wheat flour and home-made granola in glass gallon jars to decaying cardboard boxes filled with ancient, tarnished silverware that we are never allowed to use. This is also where we tend to stash the bounty that our grandmother sends home with us every Sunday: endless packages of disposable plastic plates and paper towels, jumbo sized jars of pickles and olives. A tall vertical cross-section of a tree trunk is nailed up against the far wall. That’s where we measure our heights, all seven of us, a couple of times a year – or anytime we feel like we have something to prove and can do it best through documenting a growth spurt. I have learned that the floor slopes downhill before it touches the wall under the tree trunk; that makes it okay to stand on my toes just a little bit when my height is being measured. Just to compensate.

The back pantry is next to the pantry, and occupies the slanting space directly under the stairs. This is where we keep the wood box, filled with moderately-sized pieces of wood – bigger than kindling, smaller than logs – that are appropriate for the wood burning cook stove in the kitchen. We keep newspapers here too, for dark early mornings when the stove is cold, and building a fire requires something immediately combustible. There are no shelves on the walls of the back pantry; instead, the walls are made of thin pieces of wood with a kind of cement squeezing in between the strips. The cement came out in irregularly sized swaths and globs, and dried a hundred years or so ago in eddies and swells. It’s tempting to find the swollen bits and pick them off… but ultimately unsatisfying, as they never grow back and the patches of wall that have already been picked clean look sad and barren. Also, there are strange hair-like threads embedded in the cement that frighten me. Cement that crumbles and falls to the floor is one thing; cement that ought to fall but instead dangles by a thread is unnatural.

The cook stove that we use for meal preparation and for heating the kitchen is just outside of the pantry. It’s backed up against a wall that’s been covered top to bottom in brick, to insulate the wall from the heat. Big, thick iron nails were pounded into the mortar between the bricks when it was still wet, and now they serve as hooks for all of the utensils one needs to maintain a wood-burning cook stove: a shovel, a poker, a small tool for lifting the circular burners that separate the fire from the cook.

Whenever someone with authority (and upper-body strength) desires to summon a child from the upper reaches of the upstairs bedrooms, the most effective method of communication can be found here – in the area between the cook stove and the back pantry. The poker, a two foot long iron rod, must first be disengaged from its nail hook, and then applied – with gusto – to the underside of the eleventh stair. Whack! Whack! Whack! Nothing wins the attention of the residents of the second story as quickly, and as unforgivingly, as a poker pounding against uninsulated wooden stairs.

And nothing causes near-death fright like accidentally standing on top of the eleventh stair when someone with authority (and upper-body strength) unknowing applies the poker to the underside of the same stair.

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