Essay: Kitchen Clean Up

May 9, 2018

Lake Effect essayist Marnie Mamminga chronicles the end of another era very close to home:

It was always a bit messy.

Nothing too serious. A few crumbs on the counter, a cabinet door ajar, a couple of dishes sitting in the sink, a trail of something scattered across the floor.

But I didn’t mind.  It didn’t need to be spic and span or glistening perfect.  What was best about my kitchen was that it was a happy gathering place.

Yet, after 38 years of the same cabinets and floor plan, we’ve decided to shake it up.  We’ve cooked up a new recipe for a more open space, lighter cabinets, an island, and my favorite, a built in desk that doubles as a party bar.

What’s not to like about that?

Nevertheless, I have to admit that saying goodbye to the old kitchen has not been easy.  It’s like a dear old friend is leaving you; one you’ve wined and dined with for years and whose every aging idiosyncrasy you’ve known by heart but loved regardless.

For decades, its u-shaped framework has been an ongoing three-count waltz: fridge-sink-stove-fridge-sink-stove, again and again as breakfasts, lunches, and dinners beckoned.

Over 30 consecutive Thanksgiving dinners graced its counters.  Vast numbers of potluck platters, plopped down on its perimeter, fed untold gatherings for family and friends.  When my three sons were growing up, the muted thuds of the same old cupboard doors opening and closing echoed within its snug confines from morning to night like a kind of staccato musical refrain set on replay.

But more importantly, a kitchen, of course is not just about food. Around its sink a myriad of other activities not involving recipes took place: here is where the dishwashers shared heart felt confidences; where friends and family crowded to party no matter how tiny the space; where tears sometimes fell or wounds were washed; it is where my babies were first bathed, and now it is where my grandchildren place their backyard wildflower bouquets upon its counters.  But mostly it is where my husband and I have stood side by side to fix or clean up a meal for close to four decades.

I do not give up this space lightly.

Right across from the sink counter was a small dining area anchored by a Chicago Board of Education library table (found at a local flea market) which created a welcoming space to feed a family of five as well as to naturally stimulate discussions on what had been learned that day at school.

In addition to meals, this library/kitchen table was the perfect spot to do homework, decorate Christmas cookies, color Easter eggs, carve pumpkins, create eclectic art, polish silverware, and say a nightly grace.

And now it is all gone. The old kitchen is but a hollowed out shell of two by fours and gutted dry wall-much like the picked over bones of a deliciously devoured turkey.

I sigh. 

I will miss my old sagging shelves, the squeaky lazy Susan that was too lazy to spin anymore, and most of all the cupboard doors worn by the loving hands. It was a wonderful 38 years of moveable feasts.

And yet, it is time for a kitchen facelift if we are going to continue to cook and entertain in its lovely space, which we hope to do, in the years to come.  Airy and open, the new plan calls for more of a line dance than a waltz with my kitchen sink now located under a window where the dishwasher can watch the sun traverse a blue sky or the stars and moon light up the night.

A more centrally located, all purpose island replaces the old library/kitchen table which has been repurposed to our den- a perfect spot for it to go back to its original intent- although an occasional meal and/or grandchild art project will surely continue to grace its will worn hard oak surface.

On the night before the kitchen’s demise, I felt I needed to at least symbolically say goodbye to this old space.  And so, as I gently wiped down the old counter configuration one more time, I realized that despite the work and effort to organize a meal-the shopping, the unloading, the putting away, the preparing, the cooking, the cleaning up-what a privilege and an honor it is to share a repast with loved ones.  My three point waltz around that kitchen has fed my heart with more meals of love and togetherness than I could ever dream of on a silver platter.

Gratefully, more meals and togetherness beckon.  And so, with open arms I greet my new dance partner.  A line dance I will learn. In its newly bright light and clean open space, I will relish the opportunity to dish up good food to family and friends, but more importantly, I hope for all who gather here to find once again, a happy space.

To that end, just like Hansel and Gretel, I might scatter a few crumbs about as a welcome mat back home.

Lake Effect essayist Marnie Mamminga is the author of two books, Return to Wake Robin and On a Clear Night.