Childhood Kitchens

By Beck

My grandma – the one who is now, my kids will tell you, in Heaven – was a magically good cook. Even now, I sometimes dream about her food, supernaturally good and the sorts of things that I wanted the most as a child: layer cakes, salads frothy with marshmallows, creamy mashed potatoes, fudge cooling in the cold room. Even the many china mugs of tea I drank – nearly ivory with Carnation – were good in a way that my mugs of Red Rose tea now can never be.

Her secret, of course, was that she was liberal in her use of MSG. Bet you thought there was going to be a more poetic answer, eh?

My parents had a bird in a cage when I was a teenager. He would whistle The British Grenadiers and smelled vile. He lived in a corner of the kitchen and spent his days admiring himself in his mirror and hissing at anyone who came too close.

My other grandparents had a very very old phone in their kitchen, a wooden box that sat on the wall with a dial and a small trumpet that you held to your ear. They were on a party line and if you were very lucky, you could quietly hold the trumpet to your ear and hear all of their neighbour’s business, although you were not supposed to do that.

My kids’ other grandparents – my in-laws – have a camp and on their camp is a teeny, amusing little house with lofts for sleeping and a wee little kitchen and my kids LOVE that place, of course. But they barely remember it from one visit to the next, and yet they have long conversations about the wooden Tee game at the small restaurant we go to on visits. And my mother finds my remembering the wooden phone and the jar of Ac’cent equall mystifying, that out of everything I could have remembered from my childhood, THAT is what I chose.

Tell me a story, my son asked me while we were both so sick. And so I told him about my now-gone Grandmother’s writing desk, and how she kept bins of wind-up toys on the bottom shelf for our pleasure and boxes of dollhouse furniture to be lined up and his feverish eyes got big. He wished she still lived there, he said, and I was taken again with the vividness of childhood memories and my own bemused wondering of what my own children will tell their own children, someday long from now.

16 Responses to Childhood Kitchens
  1. Antique Mommy
    August 13, 2009 | 4:47 pm

    Loved this post. I didn’t have much in the way of grandparents growing up, but I did have Godparents who were wonderful and I have lots of memories of their house – the smell of celery being diced, hushpuppies being fried, a box of fancy buttons, a big green leather chair with nailhead trim, her pink square dishes and black square coffee cups and a ceramic donkey planter — odd and unremarkable, but mine.

  2. Kara-Noel
    August 13, 2009 | 4:52 pm

    I often wonder that too!! My mom says, the things you do that the kiddos don’t remember are the most important, because those things are creating a child’s character.

  3. Mary-LUE
    August 13, 2009 | 5:00 pm

    One of the items from my mom’s house that my sister and I BOTH wanted was my grandmother’s tin of buttons. Just plain buttons. Nothing fancy. But we remember that tin in her house and we both really wanted it.

    I ended up letting my sister have the tin, but I nabbed a jar full of those buttons.

  4. Minnesotamom
    August 13, 2009 | 6:23 pm

    My grandparents had a console table of sorts, made out of some mystery material–not plastic, not metal, but something in-between, that stood in the corner of the bedroom my brother and I shared when we visited. On that console stood all sorts of treasures–stacks of my grandmother’s medical books (she was very good at self-diagnosis), old dictionaries, a hand-mirror, “treasures” sent by the drug company that supplied them their vitamins, and my favorite, a box of legal-size paper, thin and with a red line running on one edge, where I would find drawings my older cousin had made of Revolution and Civil War battles. I copied them, but of course had no idea of what was historically accurate.

    I want to write more, but I think I had better save it for my own post!

  5. Omaha Mama
    August 13, 2009 | 7:16 pm

    What a delightful post. It made me think of my own childhood kitchens. I had the benefit of four wonderful grandparents and also having two great-grandparents until I was ten and they went to heaven. I still have three grandparents and love to visit their kitchens, even now. For the things they still have with them that they always have. My great-grandparents had a golf tee game, I loved that! And each set of grandparents had the little stash of toys. I like to think about what my kids will remember about their own childhoods – you are right, it will be the most random things!

  6. Nadia
    August 13, 2009 | 8:40 pm

    Lovely! Just lovely.

    Funny how memories are. The things we choose to embed into our memory as children. I have to say that my best childhood memories come from the time I spent with my Grandparents. Treasures!

  7. erin k
    August 13, 2009 | 9:47 pm

    I believe my mom STILL has a box of Accent in her cupboard (I’m also pretty sure she never uses it. Why is it still there? We will never know.)

    And I’m also pretty sure that the reason I like Pepsi better than Coke is that the smell of opening a can of Pepsi makes me 7 years old in my Grandparents’ kitchen.

  8. Nicole
    August 13, 2009 | 10:12 pm

    Aww, this made me tear up. I can remember the little things about my grandparents’ homes so vividly. The French Vanilla candle, before scented candles were a thing. The teeny tiny china bowl full of teeny tiny china fruit. The revolving lamp that looked like a fire going through a forest of pine trees. The fancy soaps that NO ONE would ever touch. Thanks Beck for bringing those memories to mind.

  9. Rosebud & Papoosie Girl
    August 13, 2009 | 10:14 pm

    I have one grandparent, my Mom’s Mom still alive and I remember her house so well and she hasn’t lived there in over 20 years. Her clock is what I would want. This little man with a mustache that moves, awful and wonderful at the same time.

    What will my kids remember? The yelling at bath time tonight, I sure hope not.

  10. Painted Maypole
    August 14, 2009 | 1:13 am

    this reminded me of all sorts of little details about my grandparent’s farm, like the crocheted butterfly magnet that we would toss under our legs and try to stick to the fridge door.

  11. Reluctant Housewife
    August 14, 2009 | 9:38 am

    When I was very small and sick with chicken pox our doctor actually made a house call to see how I was doing.

    I remember, very vividly, the cuff of his pants and his shoes.

  12. Heather
    August 14, 2009 | 11:37 am

    Memories are funny sometimes, aren’t they? I swear I remember some things about living in NY that my mom doesn’t at all so I wonder if they are real memories or from a dream.

    I worry that my kids will just remember me yelling at them all the time.

  13. Erin
    August 14, 2009 | 4:03 pm

    I laughed out loud at the ‘liberal use of MSG’ 🙂

  14. Jennifer
    August 15, 2009 | 10:15 pm

    I’m already finding myself surprised at times with which books the girls have fondest memories of. Picture books have a way of transporting us back in time, don’t they?

    If only we knew now which ones would become sentimental; which toys, which tv shows… we could horde them and pull them out with a fluorish in 20 years. Since I can’t do that, I horde them all. 🙂

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