Kitchens just aren’t like they used to be

The Compass - - OPINION -

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 mari­nagam­bin@per­sona.ca

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