Isn’t it strange and fascinating how, when we speak a word, it can conjure up so much more than its meaning; it can elicit memories. Certainly for me that is exactly what the word “kitchen” does.
As a child growing up in Kansas City, the kitchen was more that its definition as a room for cooking. Although my widowed mother came home exhausted from work as a maid at the hospital, our kitchen became a place of comfort, warmth, activity and hospitality as soon as she came home.
Mother had been widowed when I was five years old and my sister ten, and mom became our sole support. She had not worked for fifteen years when her last job had been a telephone operator. The Great Depression hung like a dark heavy cloud over the entire country. Life was hard for almost everyone. For a widow with two little girls it was doubly hard since there were no government aid programs then. Men, let alone a woman, could not find a job.
Our small two-room apartment above the drug store across the street from the hospital was stifling in the record-breaking heat wave. On nights when it became impossible to stay inside, we took our pillows and blankets and slept in the park two blocks away—along with many others who also slept there. My sister and I thought the park exciting and we would lie on our blankets and watch the lights of the downtown Kansas City skyline. We were never afraid to sleep in the park; it was a safe place for families to gather any time of day or night.
On days my mother did not have to work, we often had our neighbors come over for coffee. Mom would create delicious meals and deserts with almost no stock of food on hand. She had a way of performing magic in the kitchen. Perhaps it was only flour and lard rolled into little flat cakes topped with cinnamon and sugar, or scrambled eggs, or something delicious that simply emerged from her stove in a magical way.
But much more than the food in our kitchen, Mother’s love and caring filled our hearts as well as our stomachs. She always listened, not only to us, but to friends and neighbors who often stopped by. When anyone left our table they left comforted. This history of my mother’s kitchen as a sanctuary continued as times got better and life became a little easier. It was always the room that we all wound up in. Mother’s favorite invitation to everyone was, “Let’s go into the kitchen and be comfortable.”
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