I believe in the institution of the kitchen. It is the single place where I have most experienced immeasurable love, generosity, hospitality, family news, drama, and life’s joys. It’s where I learned to dance the cha-cha, and from which I stretched the telephone cord well-beyond its capacity into the side-door hallway, whispering teen-age secrets. Even in graduate school, my own kitchen was where I could always feel a sense of accomplishment. When writing a dissertation seemed never-ending, I could always do the dishes. A beginning, middle, and definite end.
The postage-stamp size kitchen of my youth produced grand Christmas Eve dinners that not only fed our sit-down guests, but all who filed though the front door during the evening – open to my uncles, finished with bartending or waiting tables, who gathered their dressed-up families to celebrate and eat, however late. My parents’ classics, like clams casino, cardoons, capanotina, and melazane were well-known, masterpieces of the heart. The kitchen, a birthplace of tradition.
The round, wooden tavern table, under the kitchen window, squeezed between the silverware drawer and a wall, was where my brother taught me how to write my name, and where my parents and godparents played ‘war’, otherwise known as Bridge. It was where my mother and I made 300 cannelloni crapes for our restaurant every Monday night. When home from college, it was here that my mother and I drank tea, and talked. Where she told me that I was her only confidant. Conversations many, and so many lost.
It was information central, where I learned my oldest brother was getting something called a divorce. I learned my father’s telephone response, “Oh, dear God.” meant someone close to us died. It was where my sister and I cleaned up and talked late into the night after big parties, and where my father tuned to the Italian radio station every Sunday morning.
Kitchens have been the center of my finest memories, like sitting around a table filled with baby toys, teaching parents of deaf children to sign. I drank the best coffee, brewed in a dirt-floor kitchen in Nicaragua. In Lithuania, we talked politics, and drank vodka, and ate cheese, amid apologies for lack of meat. In my apartment kitchen, poached salmon changed my life. And it was back in my parents’ kitchen that my partner and I announced were adopting a baby girl from China. We remember a platter of seafood Alfredo on the table, barely touched, for the joy of it all.
Today, our kitchen has brought families together. It’s where we hear of impending births, engagements, travel plans, and other life events. Here, we cook, talk, argue, and schedule our lives. It’s where my oldest daughter eats passionately, does homework, writes thank you notes, and from where she takes the phone off the base and walks into the next room to share secrets with friends. It’s where my baby daughter rolls playdoh, eats olives, and can write an ‘A’. I believe the institution of the kitchen.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.