My kitchen has always been the center of , and reflective of, my emotional life. In my first marriage, because we lived in an apartment, the kitchen was tiny and cramped. On the narrow stove, I cast lead balls to shoot in my muskets. A lead spatter on the wall by the stove testifies to the result of pouring molten lead into a mold that contains a tiny drop of moisture. The oven in that stove gave rise to one of my great cooking stories.
I knew my mother had always put her turkey in the oven and cooked it all night so it would be ready on Thanksgiving morning while I was afield hunting with my male relatives. Without consulting my mother as to time and temperature, I tried her method. The next morning, my first wife and I discovered a rock-hard, blackened bird in the oven. I had to race around and find another bird, forty years ago when grocery stores were not open on Thanksgiving. I found a small frozen turkey at a convenience store. I rushed home and we thawed it with hot water. When our guests from the University arrived, I brought a covered platter to the table. Without a word, I presented the blackened bird. My guests said not a word. I broke out laughing then served them a properly cooked turkey.
In my second marriage, we had a large country kitchen which, because part of a wall had been taken out, opened into the hallway which opened into the living room. I had built a hearth in the hallway just off the kitchen and installed a wood stove. As the fire crackled, we could cook in the kitchen and speak to our guests. In that kitchen, I feed, entertained, counseled and disciplined my babies. In that kitchen, I proofed yeast and carefully weighed flour made from hard, red, winter wheat from Montana. In that kitchen, I made French bread and baked it in my baguette pans which had been dusted with cornmeal. In that kitchen, on the square table of parental justice, I explained to my babies the secret of Christmas and why people must die.
In my third marriage, divorce had driven me from my country kitchen to a condo and an L-shaped kitchen that was adequate. In that kitchen, I tried to console my sad children, whose world had been savagely destroyed by the sunder of their parents. In that kitchen, I made pie crusts with butter and lard and a special dressing I would only make for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In that kitchen, I roasted goose and made real eggnog. In that kitchen, I planned the trips that let me take my son to Barcelona to see the work of his hero, Gaudi; and allowed me to take my daughter to Paris for her sixteenth birthday, have red streaks put in her hair in a salon on the Champs-Elysees and her portrait drawn on Montmartre.
In my fourth marriage, I was in a brand new kitchen in a brand new house. My fourth wife would not let me cook with her and I did not comprehend the significance of that choice. Instead, she would hand me a drink, banish me to the living room to watch the news, and then serve me a gourmet meal. I slept on sheets that she washed and IRONED. Still, I did not comprehend the import of that decision. She declared to the world that I was her soul mate yet, in the kitchen, we were split in twain. Soon, the divide was comprehensive.
Fortunately, I had kept my condo so I had someplace to go when my fourth marriage ended. Since I had been preparing to move into my new house with my fourth wife, I returned to a bare condo. Gone was my Hickory-White solid mahogany dining table and chairs, my seven-foot tall, glass front mahogany china cabinet, my China-red, exposed frame, Raku finished living room furniture with the most beautiful Oriental fabric I have ever seen, gone was my lovely Oneida flatware, and gone was my Wusthof knife set.
Now my kitchen is filled with cheap Chinese crap. Unless I can get a good agent in New York and get my novels published by a major publisher, I will not be able to restore it to its previous quality. But that is not my big problem now. My difficulty is keeping my kitchen operational. Women are better at this than men. If I get just a few dirty dishes behind, I start stacking dirty plates and pots and pans everywhere. Because my kitchen then becomes not operational, I eat out until I finally get sick of the mess and shove everything in the dishwasher. I do not like the dish washer. I prefer to hand wash and dry my dishes, just like my grandmother did.
I need for my kitchen to remain operational. I must have ready access to my nylon cutting board or I will not really cook. I require convenient access to my marble dough board or I will not make pies and cookies. As a writer and folk artist, I am disciplined enough to work in my study and my studio every day. Since I must walk for my health, I have the resolve to walk three miles a day, five times a week. But for the life of me, I cannot maintain my kitchen in an operational state.
I have no babies to cook for. I have no wife to cook with. My study and my studio are always ready for me to work in them. It is my kitchen that causes me unrest. Perhaps my kitchen languishes because there are no more great celebrations for me to prepare, no more sublime moments for me to commemorate with food and drink. I do not know. At this very moment, my kitchen is operational. When I look into it, its somber shadows seem to be saying, in a voice that thunders through my quiet, empty condo, “Something is yet amiss—put it back or you will die.”
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