In my mother’s kitchen at 1618 Sutter Street in North Fairmount, we all sat around an old white wooden table which was covered with oilcloth (that I believe my two younger brothers at one time started a fire on or under, I’m not sure which) and it was at this table that my sister, and brothers and I did our homework while my mother ironed our clothing and a small Crosley radio on top of the refrigerator was tuned to the radio “shows” we listened to every day and night–Programs like The Lone Ranger and Mr. & Mrs. North, The Shadow and Lights Out, and some of my favorites, Baby Snooks, My Friend Irma, and Our Miss Brooks; These programs were on every day and every night, along with shows like Jack Benny, and Amos and Andy. There were dozens of these programs which we listened to while working on essays, or spelling and arithmetic lessons.
My mother’s kitchen was not, actually, a very large room, but along one wall, on the left side, there was a stove, and a tall narrow cabinet where my mother stored spices, and bottles of things like vinegar and Kitchen Bouquet.
Next to that was a large ceiling-to-floor built-in cupboard with Curious smoky stained glass in the upper cupboard doors, and then an open work space for canisters, and underneath that was a drawer where all sorts of things were tossed, from rubber bands to Wilson Evaporated milk labels (which could be redeemed for free things like dish towels or pot holders), as well as paper clips and crayons and bobby pins, pencils and erasers and old used envelopes, my mother’s one and only cookbook, Ida Bailey Allen’s Service Cookbook, that she bought at Woolworth’s, a pair of kitchen scissors and World War II ration books for each one of us that she kept long after the war was over. Whenever you needed something like string or a rubber band, you looked inside the kitchen drawer.
Next to this big built-in kitchen cupboard there was a narrow built in cupboard where canned goods and staples were stored and where my father had ingeniously cut a square hole into the floor so that my mother could drop in soiled laundry collected from the second floor bedrooms and bathroom.
In the basement, my father built large cupboards, one of which contained the laundry that had been dropped in the hole from above. Once, my brother Biff got stuck in the hole when we were playing hide & seek and our parents were not at home.
There was a back door, outside of which there was a box where the milkman could leave bottles of milk, (although I don’t think we often had milk delivered—I remember a lot of powdered milk, Starlac, being mixed with water for us to drink.) Next to the back door, was my blackboard, nailed to the wall, on which my two younger brothers and I played a game called “war”—a not very creative game of drawing ships and airplanes with chalk and taking turns sinking one another’s battleships and fighter planes—a game I am surprised to remember as it indicates we were actually aware that a war was going on. (I have always maintained that I didn’t remember anything about the War years).
Next to the blackboard was a kitchen window that looked out onto the back yard. In the corner along that wall was the refrigerator, on top of which was the little radio; Looking out on the side yard was a window opposite the great kitchen cupboard–there may have been two windows on that wall but I can’t quite envision it. Along that wall my mother had a mangle ironer that she seldom ever used and it was a catchall for things piled on top of it.
On the 4th wall, opposite the back door, was the kitchen sink where my sister Becky, brother Jim and I washed, dried and put away dishes and memorized the lyrics to popular songs from a songbook Becky bought each week for ten cents from Carl’s Drug Store.
This was my mother’s kitchen, where we ate supper every night at six o’ clock sharp and you did not eat If you were not at the table. I never missed supper and sat to my mother’s right at the kitchen table because I was the leftie in the family.
It was in my mother’s kitchen that I learned to cook, studying recipes in the Ida Bailey Allen cookbook and making sure we had all of the ingredients in the pantry. It was in my mother’s kitchen that I began making muffins and brownies, peanut butter cookies and a cookie called Hermits and another called Rocks. If you could read directions, I discovered, you could cook.
Sometimes when my mother was at work, my two best friends, Patti & Carol, and I baked cakes or cookies while my two younger brothers sat on the back steps outside the kitchen door, waiting to eat our mistakes, such as burnt cookies. I had an enormous amount of freedom in the kitchen, with the only requirement to clean up after myself.
In the summertime, when my mother was at work, I made menus out of the leftovers in the refrigerator, and played “restaurant” with my two younger brothers who could then “order lunch” from the menu.
We also did some crafts sitting at the kitchen table; I remember coloring uncooked macaroni with food coloring to make a necklace.
It was also in my mother’s kitchen that I began to write stories on an old Under wood typewriter that my father bought for my older brother and me to use; it was too heavy to carry upstairs, and so I typed, using two-fingers, while sitting at the kitchen table.
These are some of the things I remember about my mother’s kitchen. It was, I think, the hub of the house.
–Sandra Lee Smith