….was where you’d find my mom even if she wasn’t cooking. She sat in the chair closest to the stove with a book open, newspapers or work sheets spread across the tablecloth covering its Formica top. In close proximity to her right hand would be an increasingly filled ashtray and a cup of coffee (morning) or tea (lunch/after dinner) or a glass of whiskey faintly diluted with orange juice (after work /late into the night). She taught us how to cook while seated at the table, calling directions over her shoulder and guided by the perfect eyes in the back of her head. It was the stage from which she proclaimed world views and opinions about her children’s and husband’s deportment. It was where we lit down beside her with a plate of leftovers to tell her about our day and woes and hear her advice or criticism or praise.
Her kitchen was big, awkwardly remodeled by my dad who knew nothing about cooking. The cabinets, sink, and stove ran across one wall, the stove jammed against one of the two windows that faced the alley. The large refrigerator filled the space between the windows so that your back was against it when you used the stove. You stood to the side to fully open the oven door.
The important point here is that the kitchen, even with its imperfections, was a proper throne from where my mom ruled her house until her children had acquired kitchen tables of their own. Her last kitchen was as big as her imagination could construct in her small nursing home room where she lived her last years after a debilitating fall. One day toward the end of her life and close to the time when, in the past, she would begin to prepare dinner, she sat in a chair positioned exactly as it would have been in her old kitchen. She pointed to the lower shelf of the bedside table and said in her old commanding tone, “it’s time to peel the potatoes.” I bent down and pretended to take out enough to make mashed potatoes for the family’s evening meal.
My sister and brother have tables at the center of their houses. My brother’s is a solid round antique oak next to a window in his big kitchen. My sister’s was once our aunt’s and she has placed it near her open kitchen. Both are often piled with books, laptops, editions of the city’s last remaining newspapers, work, and forgotten mail. Their tables are where we sit with plates and drinks, where much of our past and present lives are parsed.
As for me, my succession of galley kitchens have always been too narrow for a table other than an old gateleg I use as extra counter space. When a leg is open, the top blocks the stove just as much as my mom’s refrigerator did in her kitchen. In other words, my kitchens have always had room for only me. You can stand in the doorway or at the other end near the cookbook shelves so long as you stay out of my way. If I’m cooking I won’t like to talk to you because I’m extremely easy to distract and will botch whatever I’m making even if I know the recipe well. Family and friends accept this and understand, happy to wait for me at my table in the dining room. The top is scared and the chairs sag but it has served us well for decades of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, parties and holidays. Family discussions and important decisions happen around it.
There is an old wooden table in my garden that serves the kitchen inside well. Garden tools generally fill one side but at times they are joined by the remains of lunch and mid-afternoon snacks and drinks. This past Sunday, I covered the table with a cloth and set out plates and silverware for my family to celebrate my youngest son’s birthday. Later in the day, though, my husband and I tested positive (a true W!T!F! moment) and in the evening, as the shadows lengthened across the shrubs and flowers, the empty table looked very unhappy by itself in the garden.
But I sat at it today to eat lunch. The birthday son stopped by to see how we were. He stood at the garden gate while I drank tea and we laughed over what he and his brother did to celebrate without us and how life can be pretty funny at times. After he left I opened my notebook and wrote this story.
You have my complete sympathy. Early Friday, I thought just I had a sinus infection, and thus managed to turn my daughter's high school graduation into a super spreader event. Saturday and Sunday were miserable. Monday, I was up and about again and feeling mostly recovered, although still tired today. So, I know what you're going through and feel sorry for you.
Seems like there are lots of breakthrough cases - glad you're doing well!