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I Like The Kitchen

James Warren November 04, 2014
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I like the kitchen. It’s a skinny kitchen. Narrow, thin, no width to it at all. We work in there single file.

I like the aroma of chicken noodle soup on a day so cold the windows are frozen shut.

The whistle of the tea kettle and the sound of boiling – no, raging­ – water alerts me that it’s time… Time for Red Zinger, and sitting on the counter top, and reading comics in The Daily News.

There are some well-used cutting boards she keeps behind the faucet, leaning against the wall. Poor things, they’ve been cut into, sliced into, diced into more times than you can imagine.

If I go in her kitchen while she’s cooking, I can taste the steam laced with garlic, onions, peppers, paprika, and sizzling beef. It’s so thick, it fools my stomach into thinking I’m full for a split second. It’s so heavy, it beads up on my forehead because I’m leaning over the skillet. Now I’ll taste like dinner.

There’s a little wastebasket in the corner, with empty washed soda bottles.

A bigger trash can stands next to it – the “industrial” kind with a swinging lid. Sometimes it gets too full, and starts to stink. She calls for me then.

There’s one of those compact microwaves on the counter. She was reluctant to get it at first, now she couldn’t function normally without it.

There’s a dishwasher, thank God.

We have an old toaster oven, that gets way too hot when you use it. My toast always gets almost burned.

There’s a window which gives a neat view of the Broadway Dance Center. It’s something to cook and watch people dance.

The cabinet shelves are lined with tacky contact paper. Some awful pattern of faded yellow, with not too bright red and dull blue crisscrossing all over it.

Mugs sit on the first shelf. A collection, a testament of all the cities we ‘ve traveled to. They face you like some intercontinental army, daring you to drink Jamaica, or Montreal, or San Francisco. But not Dallas.

An assortment of mismatched silverware is in a drawer. And in another, a variety of old and new cooking utensils. She says the good stuff’s reserved for special occasions.

The beige linoleum floor beckons spills and mishaps, because it loves to absorb them, and refuses to surrender them, even to the mighty Mr. Clean, even to the omnipotent Clorox Lemon-Scented Bleach.

Two small plants sit on the window sill, wondering why they have to be in her kitchen, feeling out of place, wishing they were in the living room with their friends.

Lord knows this kitchen gets cramped. It’s crowded especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas. People literally get stuck, and everyone has to move together to free them. Nothing ‘s like being stuck with your rear on the dishwasher, as it steams out during the Heat-Dry cycle.

When she comes in, she heads for the broom and dustpan. She’s a cleaning fanatic.

Her kitchen friends are a dish towel and ivory soap. She can’t stand dirt.

She’s scrubbed that same spot a thousand times, convinced it will come out.

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” she says. I believe it.

Soap and hot water used in extreme amounts are her only prevention against the curious mice and roaches who scout Gotham’s apartments in advance of the larger foraging parties waiting for them at home.

Sometimes, as I enter the hallway from the elevator, coming home from school, I can smell the fish frying. I like her cooking.

The smoke detector goes off now and then because she got a little relaxed and something burned.

Every morning, coffee drips.

The dishwasher’s low hum is comfortable on a lazy afternoon. You can hear the pots and clanging when she cooks.

The refrigerator’s like some giant factory, all of its different mechanisms make an impressive cacophony.

The stove goes “click-click-click” when she lights a burner. Then the “fwooohhh” of just-ignited gas. But it burns the rest of the time silently.

In summer, the window is open. It puts one in touch with the noisy attitude of Broadway, nine floors below.

In the middle of the night, the drip of the faucet summons me to the kitchen, after a pit stop in the bathroom.

Now she stands, tired and hot, filling a tall glass with cold water from that faucet. “You know,” she says, “New York water is the best water. They can’t afford to mess around with 8 million people.” It’s 9 million I think, but Mother knows best.

Recipes from long ago are collected in a cookbook atop the fridge. Sweet potato pie. Collard greens. Macaroni & cheese. Black-eyed peas. Her famous spaghetti sauce, you could smell it a mile away. It’s authentic; she lived in Italy for three years.

The smooth counter tops are almost soft to the touch. Weird, because formica’s not supposed to be soft. But these are. Soft and smooth like a baby’s bottom.

Sometimes, if it’s sunny, the rays reflect off of the shiny, stainless steel sink, and make me remember warm summer days in Ackerson Lake, Michigan. Mom loved her kitchen there.

The cast iron stove top burners are so rough. So much burnt food that it’s become part of them, and it’ll never come off, no matter how hard she scrubs.

Knives, razor sharp, lie like weapons of choice in a drawer.

They never need sharpening. They’re high tech. But I like their handles. Cool plastic feels good in your hand, like the handlebar grips of your first bike.

The mop handle, Goodness it’s so sticky. The thing is so old, the paint’s peeling off of it, and whenever it gets wet, it sticks to your palm, leaving blue flakes on top of red, irritated skin.

The beep of the microwave when it’s finished annoys me. She uses its timer all the time.

The hodge-podge of plates – one from nearly every place we’ve ever lived. No complete sets. The good stuff’s reserved for special occasions.

The shuffle of her slippers on the kitchen floor. Somebody’s hungry.

The fridge casts light on a dark place in the middle of the night. Thank God for refrigerator lights.

No photographs, no report cards. Just a sticker for a date with the dentist, an “Apple A Day” grocery pad with a magnetized back, and a little magnet with a scripture on it.

I forget which one.

I feel secure in here, in her kitchen. She taught me well.

I know how to cook. Better believe it.

My mother didn’t raise me to be ignorant in the kitchen.

No, I can do some work. Just give me some room and make sure you do the dishes when I’m done.

I dream one day I’ll have a TV in the kitchen, on the counter. So I can practice with those gourmet chefs who cook on The Discovery Channel and The Leaming Channel.

I like the kitchen. That’s her fault.

I like good appliances, like the ones we’ve got. Whirlpool. KitchenAid . They’re sturdy.

I wonder if my sons and daughters will like the kitchen. I do.

Photo credit: See-ming Lee

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