We moved into my grandmother’s house almost a month ago. We’re pretty much settled in and getting used to all the changes. The first week I spent a lot of time standing still, looking around with boxes piled around me, figuring out where everything would work best. I thought a lot about the places my grandmother kept her things.
This is my new kitchen—my grandmother’s kitchen.
The counters are a sort of cream color. My grandmother’s kitchen is a bit of a hybrid—old paneled walls and linoleum mixed with a counter and cabinet upgrade completed sometime in the 80’s. The cabinets were a warm honey color before, now a deep chocolate. I can’t recall the color of the old countertops. My grandmother—Mem we call her—was a meticulous cleaner, right up until she moved into her room at the nursing home. (By the way, she is happy there and very well cared-for, which is a great relief to those of us who love her.) She gives us her house in beautiful condition. I found some cool old stuff in the cellar, an awesome old tablecloth bordered with wide red rickrack (!) in a kitchen drawer, my grandfather’s dog tags from WWII in a small white box in the linen closet.
My DIY crate shelf in action!
I grew up next door, in the house in which my parents still live. Mem’s house holds a great many memories for me. My grandfather—Pep—who died 20 years ago, laid the wood floors with his brothers, built the laundry room, renovated the master bedroom with his good friend. His tools still rest on his workbench in the corner of the cellar. My sister and I used to sleep here most Saturday nights—buttered popcorn, Lawrence Welk, falling asleep to The Love Boat glowing from the portable black and white which had been moved to the bureau in the guest bedroom.
Virginia Woolf wrote a book, A Room of One’s Own, in which she extols the importance for women writers to have both literal and figurative space in which to write. She wrote this essay in 1929 when women enjoyed far less equality than we do now. (Not that the work is over, mind you...) I do have the support of a good husband who encourages my creative work, and even though I don’t have the kind of literal space Woolf wrote about, it is how I think of my kitchen.
Carving out a writing life, piecing my time together into some sort of quilted whole, amidst the busyness of my children, homeschooling, the care of my home, freelance work (when I can get it), this blog and my creative writing work is challenging on the most productive days and (most) other days entirely overwhelming.
The kitchen is very important to me. I rarely leave it for very long. That’s okay—everything I need is here. As I type this, I stand here at the counter and I prepare food for my family. I clean, I fold laundry, I make appointments with doctors, I answer emails. And I write. I have all my tools at hand: laptop and notes and notepads fanned out, my pots and big bamboo spoon at the stove, my cutting board and favorite knife, my crock of compostables. My ever-chattering radio. I begin each morning with great vigor and ambition and then, in the end, I do the best I can. I write in fits and starts. Scraps of paper, scrawled ideas, thoughts, lines, beginnings of chapters pepper my counter.
My domestic moments are miles removed from the writerly life I once imagined: a room of my own, money and opportunity flowing, big fat publishing contract, hours of stimulating conversation with other writers. An endless stream of unfettered time. But, even in my most frustrated moments, I am certain that’s not what I really want now that this good life has found me. I’m a mom, a home education facilitator, a homemaker, a writer, a reader. (And that’s only some of it.) This life I have now and the life I once imagined have blurred lines, not strong delineated borders.
Pep's hat still hangs in the entryway.
Before we moved in here, I worried that maybe this house would only and always feel like Mem and Pep’s house with us as intruders in their space. But it’s starting to feel like ours. The best thing is that our family life is not overwriting the lives that unfurled here—instead, like Mem’s kitchen, it is more of a lovely hybrid.
Mem loved (loves) this house well. This kitchen is very special to me. It is Mem’s and it is mine. I will feed my family here, fold laundry here, watch Felicity here. I will write in here.
A kitchen of one’s own—that is what I have.
(Parts of this blog post appeared originally in a somewhat different form on www.HerCircleEzine.com.)