SS# 52 - In the Kitchen

The heavy clunk of Father’s boot echoed in the silent house. The small boy watched from behind the lace curtains of his bedroom window as the new Willy’s wagon fired up. Father was the local ice deliveryman, and his day always began before dawn.

The boy slid off his bed, carefully transferring his weight to keep the springs from waking Mother in the next room. His bare feet felt the chill from the wooden floors as he dressed himself quickly and made his way down the hall and stairway.

He crept through the parlor, decorated with stuffed furniture, dark woods and a smattering of cherished family belongings from Poland. The cat was curled on one of the dining room chairs, and he stroked the soft fur on her head briefly before making his way into the kitchen.

The Kitchen! The heart of the home! The boy cherished this room most of all. The scrubbed wooden floor was always warm on his feet, thanks to the large wood stove. The low sink, cast of heavy iron covered with porcelain (which was beginning to chip off) was big enough for him to sit in if he wanted. The walls were covered with wallpaper that Mother had ordered out of the Sears Catalog when she and Father first married. A small crucifix hung on the wall next to the Hoosier cabinet, and in the window was Mother’s treasure – a tiny bird made of hand-blown glass and suspended by a blue ribbon. Father had found the beautiful ribbon in Pittsburgh while away on business, and he had presented it to Mother on her birthday.

In the very center of the room was their kitchen table. Many fine feasts had been prepared here. It was Mother’s workstation, and the boy always felt secure when he thought of her sitting at the table. She would do her hand sewing here, or her baking. It was a utilitarian thing and if he pressed his nose to the wood, he could smell the herbs of meals gone by.

Father had stoked the coal furnace in the basement before he left, and warmth was beginning to spread to the first floor. The boy could still hear the last embers warming in the stove. He opened the back door and drew in a breath of early spring chill, and then he began carrying small logs from the yard up the wooden stairs to the back deck. His chore every morning was to provide Mother with wood; Mother was expecting and Doctor had ordered her to take her own duties easy.

Twenty minutes passed, then thirty. The boy brushed away the last bits of bark from his bare hands (he never wore his wool mittens, as they were scratchy on his skin) and stepped back into the kitchen. He found yesterday’s dishtowel and mopped up a bit of water from the old icebox. Father wanted to buy Mother a new one, but Mother insisted he put the $150 towards a better use by purchasing the Willy’s. “We will make due with this ice box,” Mother had announced in Polish. She was always practical that way.

The boy knew Mother’s refusal to buy an icebox was due to her love for her husband. So many homes were turning towards the new electrical refrigerators; Father’s business was beginning to decline. How could they afford a new icebox or afford to install electrical wiring for refrigerators when sales were slow?

The icebox had to be monitored constantly to check the size of the ice block. If it melted too quickly, the food inside would spoil. Water would melt into a cistern or bucket; many families wasted that water in the garden, but Mother always found a use for it. Electrical boxes were much of a time-saver, however. So many families were ordering them from Sears and other catalogs that local shops began stocking them. The boy solemnly vowed that he would never have one of those in his house when he was grown up.

The boy smiled as Mother came downstairs and bid him “good morning.” She put a match to the kerosene lantern suspended from the ceiling, and then prepared him a plate of bread and cold chicken. His treat was an apple from the cellars.

Today was her washing day and she would need him to hang the scrubbed clothing on the lines in the basement. This chore would take up most of the morning, but first Mother would begin dinner.

The woman worked swiftly, mixing flour and other ingredients for dough, and then setting it to rise near the stove. She added wood and stoked the stove off and on, then added a large metal tub to the top – this would provide a large enough basin for washing flannels and denim.

Around noon, Mother wiped her brow and sat down in the dining room with a lunch tray for them both. They now had hot tea to sip. The laundry washing was finished, the last of the soap flakes swept up, and Mother would begin to prepare dinner.

The boy was glad it was washing day. On other days Mother might have him beat the dust out of the rugs, or wipe down the wood spindles on the banister. Mother would always darn clothing or sew in the afternoon on washing day, and as they had no radio, she would amuse him by singing songs from their homeland while they stayed in the warmest room of the house – the kitchen itself.
The boy loved his mother’s singing, however he dearly wished he could afford to take Mother downtown to one of the new talkie movies. Perhaps when he was older, Father might allow him to work with the blocks of ice? It paid better than other jobs. The boy closed his eyes and daydreamed…

~ in tribute to the family who built our Pembroke Cottage.

7 responded with...:

Beaman said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Your descriptive abilities are wonderful and I couldn't help but draw a parallel with the short stories of Anton Chekhov.
The characters were perfectly realistic and easy to warm to. Very good writing. :)

gautami tripathy said...

Beautiful, heartfelt tribute. The reflections of the boy are touching. We all know one such family but seldom give them much thought. Thanks for writing about one such family.

Cook up a tale

paris parfait said...

I loved reading this story - such a great tribute to the family who lived in the cottage. I like the hopefulness of the little boy and how he made the best of the situation and challenges they faced.

Anonymous said...

This is a great story. I felt like I was right there. You are a very good writer.

Kamsin said...

Lovely tribute! Can't help but think a woman's life was full of hard work in the days before mod-cons! Not to mention the life of husband and son as well!

Ian russell said...

imaginative approach to the prompt, autrice, I really liked this piece of social history brought to life.

Kimberley McGill said...

A tribute, a slice of time and all told through the eyes of a boy - beautifully done. It would have been a whole different flavor told through the eyes of the mother or father.