August 22nd, 2010
A large window in the ceiling connects the kitchen to the sky. Whenever it rains, which happens a lot, the window leaks and we bring out a special collection of bowls, pots and buckets to collect the water. They create obstacles when running through the house, and are more often than not upended by flying feet or paws that create micro-floods and track damp footprints throughout the house. But having rain inside lends the kitchen an exotic, woodsy feel; also, it means that some of us might get to go up on the roof to assist with repairs.
Down below, the room is composed entirely of hand-constructed wood work. Wide, pale, unfinished planks line the floor; dark stained wood makes up the countertops and cabinets and off-sets the punched metal plates that form the cabinet doors; and a two-toned combination of woods play off each other in the bread-baking table – dark everywhere except for the kneading surface which is nearly as pale as whole wheat dough. A corner cabinet in between two doorways houses antique pitchers, basins, and kerosene lamps up top, while below, sheaves of mysterious papers, including sheet music for a flute, occupy the closed triangular cupboard.
A wide porcelain sink is one of many centers of activity, and the rest of the room orients itself around the basin and faucet: dishes and silverware to the left, cleaning supplies below, cooking tools and utensils to the right. The wood-burning cook stove is just behind, with its pie warmer, water reservoir, and fire-resistant brick wall filled with iron implements, dried bundles of herbs, and occasionally – where a nail has fallen out of the mortar leaving a conveniently placed hole – sticks of burning incense which leave small, fragrant piles of ash on the floor. Off to the right of the sink there’s a dark corridor that leads to doors that go to the downstairs bathroom and the studio, and along the way, passes a wheat grinder that’s been clamped to the counter, an antique coffee grinder that’s been nailed to the wall, the refrigerator, and floor to ceiling built-in shelves for spices, pieces of slate, and glass gallon jars filled with flour. Another set of shelves made from an ashen-grey wood house a variety of odds and ends related to this intersection of kitchen, bathroom and studio. One very long shelf hugs the ceiling above the studio door and serves as a convenient, if precarious, place to hang wet laundry. Anyone who tries to enter the studio will have to travel through the laundry to open the door, and will inevitably bring a shower of damp clothing and pointy hangers down upon his or her head.
Over time, the woodsiness, humidity, and population density bring the kitchen closer and closer to its natural state. A hole eventually eats its way through the wooden countertop, exposing the silverware drawer below. After one too many children flushes toys, shoes, and other non-flushables down the toilet in the adjacent bathroom, the plumbing in the sink eventually stops working. We plug the drain, wash dishes using two dark blue plastic buckets, and leave them to drip and dry on the counter with the hole. When the hot water heater also breaks, we heat water for the dishes on the cook stove. Another hole is worn into the floor by a child who loves to run, but refuses to do it anywhere but up and down the length of the kitchen. The floorboards detach themselves from the beams below and leave a gaping hole just the size of a running shoe. One misstep and the ill-placed foot will go crashing through into the dark below. This does not, however, deter the runner who gradually softens much of the surrounding wood as the years pass.
Once, when I am small and sick and sleeping in my parents’ bedroom, I am allowed to take a bath in a galvanized metal tub right below the skylight, and right next to the wood burning stove – a delight that I am convinced cannot be surpassed. Another time, some years later, I realize that the smell of wood smoke, bacon and eggs on the cook stove (or if we are especially lucky, blueberry pancakes made from hand-ground buckwheat), sunlight from the skylight, and music from the record player in the living room are the few, but essential elements necessary to the creation of a Saturday morning.
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