The Kitchen Table

Was where you’d find Mom even if she wasn’t cooking. She sat in the chair closest to the stove with a book open, newspaper spread out, or work spreadsheets. In front of her or in close proximity to the right would be an increasingly filled ashtray and a cup of coffee (morning) or tea (lunch/after dinner) or a glass of whiskey and orange juice (after work cocktail/late into the night). Her children touched down beside her throughout the day. Her husband, always coming and going somewhere, paused beside her but rarely settled into a chair. Always, there was a plate of something on the table, remnants of dinners, lunches or dessert, very often a pile of crackers and cheese.

The kitchen was big, awkwardly remodeled by Dad who knew nothing about cooking. The cabinets, sink and stove ran across one wall, the stove jammed against one of the two windows that faced the alley. The large refrigerator filled the space between the windows so that, when using the burners, Mom’s back was up against it. She had to stand to the side to fully open the oven door.

The important point here is that the kitchen was a proper size for a throne from where she ruled her house until widowed and her children had acquired kitchens of their own. The one in her small room in the nursing home where she lived her last years after a debilitating fall was as big as her imagination could construct. A few months before she left this last kitchen, my brother and I sat beside her. Close to the time when, in the past, she would be preparing dinner, she pointed to the lower shelf of her bedside table and said in her old commanding tone, “it’s time to peel the potatoes.” I bent down and pretended to take out enough for the mashed potatoes she intended for dinner.

My sister and brother have tables at the center of their houses. Theirs are often piled with books, editions of the city’s last remaining newspapers, work, and laptops. Always, there are plates of something, cups and glasses for themselves and guests. My succession of galley city kitchens have always been too narrow and small for a table. But if I did, it would be where you’d find me. Just like Mom.