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For Deena whose perspective has shaped my own and whose kitchen I covet.
I hate my kitchen. It has mice living in the walls who like to sneak into my drawers late at night. There are holes in the ceiling. Many of the cabinet doors are held together with brackets and the countertops are only resting on the cabinets. The sink wall is rotting. The whole room is drab, ugly, and out of date. I fantasize about a new kitchen.
At some point in my mother’s career caring for four active children and a farm, she decided she needed help. She dreamed of going to a doctor’s appointment alone or sneaking into her barn studio and painting without children adding their artistic expression to her canvas. Teenagers weren’t a babysitting option during the day, but an older woman just at the end of our road was interested. Dorothy Sponholz was hired and soon named Baba by my brother. It was to her house that my older siblings went when my mother and father went off to the hospital to deliver me.
Most of my childhood memories are colored by the steady presence of Baba. By the time I went to kindergarten my mother began teaching art and needed more help. Once a week Baba was a fixture in our house, during which time she helped my mother catch up on laundry, and watched me. But best of all every Wednesday, I got off the bus at Baba’s house.
Baba lived in a small white farm house with two bedrooms upstairs. Nothing was new, everything needed maintenance, but it was comfortable and clean. Baba’s kitchen was on the west side of the house and had a stretch of windows that looked out over the neighboring woods and field as the sun set. She had only one set of cabinets and a quintessential 1950s blue and white Formica kitchen table. She and her husband had bought it when they married after the war. Its seats were covered with some plastic that stuck to your skin in the heat of the summer. And each time you sat down a gush of air would escape from the padding.
I loved that table. I would sit at that table after school, weary from the bus ride, weary from worksheets and standing in line, as Baba buttered up a fresh piece of bread for me. She would stand at the kitchen sink, fussing, cleaning up dishes, and talking to me, as I gobbled up the simple goodness of her buttered hospitality. At that table I learned how to flavor my mashed potatoes with just the right amount of butter and salt. At that table I spent afternoons just prattling away to an adult who listened to everything I had to say, as the winter sun slanted in through the windows.
Recently it has occurred to me that Baba’s kitchen wasn’t half as nice as my current desperately-in-need-of-repair kitchen. I have more counter space and cabinets. My appliances are new. And although I do not have a westward view of woods and fields, my window does not rattle in storms as hers did. I am positive if Baba were to walk through my home she would think I lived in a mansion with my four bedrooms upstairs and living and family room. She would marvel at my tight windows and solid foundation. Yet there is no more love in my house than Baba’s.
I have been wondering lately if the many children who come in and out of my house notice the holes in my kitchen ceiling or that the counter lifts right off the cabinets. I wonder if instead they only notice the smells of hot bread in the winter and zucchini bread in the summer. I don’t think they care what color my cabinets are, only if I have time to listen to their tales and offer up some of my blueberry jam or homemade lemonade.
I’ve also been wondering if I wandered through Baba’s house now if it would seem deprived or blessed? Would I notice what needed to be fixed, or would I just be overwhelmed by Baba’s warmth, again?
I am trying to return to my childhood perspective these days. I am trying to remember what it was like to rest in conversation and light and buttered bread. I am trying to love my kitchen, thankful for what it does provide, thankful for the many blessings we receive there.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.