Kitchens just aren’t like they used to be
The kitchen has always been my favourite room, and this fondness has absolutely nothing to do with culinary delights. Cooking, baking, cake decorating and the like have never been listed among my talents. Only heaven knows how often casseroles have been spoiled and stews burned while I sat pecking away at my computer.
My preference for this room goes back to my childhood in Branch in the 50s. The most lived-in room in our house was the kitchen. Compared to my tiny, compact kitchen of today, that same room in our family home was huge. Well, it was big enough to hold a large Findlay Oval range with a clothesline strung over it, a rocking chair, a daybed, a Singer sewing foot machine, a table that seated a family of nine plus chairs dispersed around the room for visitors to occupy. Then there was a brick chimney that stood in the corner next to the wood box full of junks. Added to all this was a baby’s crib that often took centre stage.
The kitchen of my childhood was multi-functioning. While fish fried on the stove, somebody might be tending to a baby or polishing a pair of shoes. Because the big old Rogers Majestic radio was positioned on a shelf above the daybed, two or three sets of ears would be tuned in so as not to miss one bit of the daily Ranch Party. It was not unusual to jack up the volume so that Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two could drown out a crying child.
As I recall, our kitchen was never empty. The big table entertained games of 45s and Auction as often as it hosted meals. Fights over trumping, cross playing and reneging the ace of hearts was the rule more often than the exception. Arguments between siblings were sometimes hotter than the spruce junks crackling in the stove. A lively game might go on until tempers flared too much for comfort or the cards were replaced with the supper dishes.
During winter nights, the warm kitchen echoed to the sounds of homework. With five or six children simultaneously attending school, lessons ranged from the simplicity of “See David. See Ann” in Grade 1 to the complexity of solving theorems in Grade 11. Whichever neighbours happened to be present would hear of the adventures of the pigmy Bunga from Malaysia or the hapless John Grumlie on his farm. In my family, schoolwork never took a back seat to anything. None of us were brilliant, but all seven of us earned a high school diploma before we left home.
Kitchens, of course, were the meeting places for adults. I was not very old when I first realized that if I kept my ears open and my mouth shut, lots of interesting information would come my way. There were times when I zeroed in on details that were definitely not meant for a junior audience.
The term “kitchen party” is a familiar one in Newfoundland. No wonder. Entertainment in someone’s house always centered in the kitchen. With the accordion blasting and the harmonica accompanying, there were nights when the table seemed to dance along with revelers. As somebody held on to the stove to keep it in place, dance steps rattled the floor. These were the times when the kitchen would literally come alive.
Oh yes, I will always remember that humble kitchen of my youth. It was not just the chamber in which our food was cooked and eaten. It was where I knelt (grudgingly) to chant the Rosary, where I listened to my mother recite poetry, where my great-uncle Andrew Joseph Nash told me stories that he heard on “The Barrelman.”
The kitchen I use today is fairly modern. It possesses the usual appliances and exists for the sole purpose of convenience. I like its comfort and amenities and I appreciate the ease it brings. However, it will never be remembered as fondly or held in the same esteem as the kitchen of my past.
— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch. She is a retired teacher who lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org