Thursday, February 09, 2006

My Mother's Kitchen

Ireland of the Welcomes, Jan/Feb, 1991.
Whenever I see used pine furniture on sale, I'm always reminded of the pine table in our old, farm kitchen; its odd, squeaky castors, and drawers of cutlery and papers. I pored over schoolbooks or comics on one corner, while Mother rolled pastry on its clean surface, peeled vegetables or fruit, and Saturdays, splashed scalding water to scour it thoroughly before scrubbing.

This was no modern kitchen, with microwave and mixer! All jobs were hand-done: drawing water in twin, white-enamelled buckets at the village pump; boiling-up the cast-iron kettle for washing, or for the family's tea; raking the glowing embers of the blackened range, its crooked stove-pipe wending upwards in the rubble-stone wall.

There were floorboards that creaked dangerously in corners, or curling wallpaper, peeling stickily from the damp-soaked walls. Milk bottles rested coolly in a water-filled pail in the scullery, where a wash-basin and jug stood always ready on a marbled, worm-eaten dresser. There were lids and covers for everything, against the scurrying of mice, and worse.

By the scullery door, a rosewood cabinet held plates and china for special occasions. A wireless hummed gently through the day, as likely to deliver a jolt of shock as work its glowing, glass valves. A green, tin bread-bin smelled of fresh loaves and sodabread, the latter a weekly gift from my grandmother, made from buttermilk, fragrant and sweet.

Weekly, the linoleum floor-covering was mopped and dried, then attacked vigorously with polish and a soft cloth. My mother toiled endlessly, the seasons dictating the pace and kind of work to be tackled in her kitchen.

Summer days brought salads and cold meats, trodden dust and houseflies, and wasps that buzzed angrily about the high, wooden ceiling. There were coloured butterflies for the children to catch and return to the scented garden, or birds, which flew in through the breezy windows spread wide in the deadening heat. The dog panted in the shade, moulting long, fine hairs which caught on briars and used with cow-hairs and wool by nesting birds, or which blew in through the door to nestle instead in dusty corners of the house.

With autumn came restless weather, and the chores changed to include hurried preservation of wild fruit as berries ripened on the burgeoning hedgerows. Local children crowded in, eager to sample the hot, bubbling mixture as it cooked gently on the stove. There were glass jars, washed, and cleansed in the dry heat of the oven; grease-proofed paper seals, and rubber bands. And bread, freshly made, ran with butter made liquid from hot jam, as my mother patiently sliced thick pieces with the wooden-handled bread-knife for the hungry crowd.

With the fogs and chills of winter, the kitchen became a cosy haven, where smoke leaked slowly from the stove-pipe, highlighting a season's cobwebs in sooty-black; patterning a mosaic of cracks and splits and last year's stains, where rain leaked incessantly through the broken, ancient slates. There were games at Hallow'een, and aromas of welcoming stews, lingering in the air. There was celery and parsley; carrots, peeled potatoes, and a tidbit stolen from the pot. And as the precious light westered behind the far-off, picture-book cottage on the horizon, my father coming in wearily from his work, there was a patterned oilcloth on the table, great steel spoons, and second helpings, with strong, hot tea.

The windows, nailed against the rattling storms, stared blindly into complete night: blackboards for young fingers drawing pictures in their condensation; running rivulets of mist onto their rotting frames.

When the lights failed, we'd sit near the heat of the stove in candlelight, while father smoked and the dog lay sleeping at our feet, twitching, and softly whining in secret, canine dreams. Outside, the wind roamed carelessly around the hillsides, driving rain and sleet onto the bleak, lonely land.

Springtime changed the pace again, as old newspapers and letters were dug out of drawers and boxes in the great clean-up. The floor was briefly muddied as we tripped between the scullery and haggart, piling high the winter's waste on a large, smoky bonfire, while wood-pigeons called from tall sycamore and yew. Bedding was aired on budding blackthorn between cloudbursts, and there were fresh vegetables to eat, and frequent walks to the now accessible shop, where strange, colourful packages of modern goods enticed housewifes to count again their meagre pennies.

Today, great weeds grow from the rusted remains of the old range, and crows nest noisily in its crooked chimney. Rain pours freely through the rotten roof beams and crumbled floor of my mother's old kitchen. The old pine table was given long ago to a children's home, where perhaps, some child also uses a corner for homework, or to watch from as pastry is rolled, or bread cut with a wooden-handled knife. But now in her bright Council house, my mother still cares as much for her kitchen as she did on the farm, and the cycles of work and season continue as before.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brill !