Monday, November 2, 2009

Gran's Kitchen

I had never made it before, since I consider most sausage or bacon substitutes made with turkey to be direct insults to any turkey of distinction (or any hog, for that matter). It caught my eye in the frozen food section of the Pac-N-Save, as I was planning out some weekend meals. Mixed Berry Buckwheat Waffles with Turkey sausage links. With the endless bushels of leaves to rake, and the dreaded, long overdue cleaning of the once mouse-ridden shed, this seemed like a decent plowman's breakfast on a fall Sunday ( pics). As we made it all up Sunday morning, I was captivated by the aroma of those links sizzling away. One of those rare but welcomed moments where an aroma pulls you out of your time and place, and takes you back to a memory only formed over years of expereinces there. I said it repeatedly to my wife, "It smells like Gran's kitchen in here." "Is that a good thing?", she replied. Always a good thing.

That green screen door. One of those timeless things that never changed about Gran's kitchen. There were many such features. The old, heavy door with countless layers of lead and latex paint, with the aftermarket deadbolt lock that I could never quite master. Arriving on any given steamy Summer morning, you could hear the early sounds of the work day beginning just down the hill at Jones Welding through the screen door. Two farmers would be talking grain prices while filling up their pick-up's at the gas pumps at Dinklage's. Uncle Burt and Gran would be sitting at kitchen table, the wormwood lamp that Doctor John Kline had made, illuminating the eating area, sitting under a display shelf holding some of Gran's more distinct and unique pieces of Fiesta Ware. I always loved the two figurines hanging from the ends of the shelf-two mexican men wearing sombreros, both in a sitting position. I wonder what happened to those at the sale. Walking across the kitchen, you could physically feel the sagging in the floor under your feet. This was an old home, and to find a perfect right angle was an impossibility.

Burt would be sloppily eating a bowl of cereal. He had his own special cereal bowl that was quite a bit larger than the regular set of bowls in the copboard. Gran's everyday dishes matched the set we had when I was growing up. Her silverware was wood-handled, almost like teak wood. Vintage 1960's, I'm sure. Lee Hughes was reading his KMA sports report from the Realistic radio sitting on top of the refridgerator, skillfully sending it back to Don Hansen for more farm market news. Gran wouldn't make a full pot of coffee for herself, so she would typically make a cup of instant coffee to go with whatever baked good she was eating for breakfast. Usually this meant a piece of sheet cake, or some date & walnut cookies to go with her rather large assortment of prescription medicine she would take; the first of many such rounds of pills throughout her day, for various chronic ailments.

I would have a bowl of cereal with them, usually marveling at the machine-like eating prowess of Burt. He had a full morning of errands on any given weekday, and was typically up and out of the house and across the street to Nishna Cottage to see Johnnie & make the rounds by 9. Every once in a while I would scrounge through the kitchen, just seeing what was there, for no particular reason. Cork & Trudy's bottle of Black Velvet sat in a lower cupboard under the coffee maker, pulled out for Sunday night vcard games. Burt's "shaving kit" was one designated drawer, with his toothbrush, Lectric Shave aftershave, and his Norelco electric razor, always shrouded with his heavy beard trimmings. There was a junk drawer with various key chains, rubber balls, finger monster thingies I used to play with, loose marbles, everything you'd expect from a junk drawer.

The pantry was just off the kitchen, just large enough to wegde a washer & dryer in there, with build-in shelves where canned goods would be kept. Gran's pantry was the only kitchen I ever saw that would have a can of hominy in it. Mom, Gran, Aunt Bernice and Aunt Sam would tell a story about when Burt was a kid where he got a kernel of hominy stuck so far up his nose they had to have Dr. John remove it with a piece of wire. I've never looked at a can of hominy, which I do use on occasion, without thinking of what had to be an excruciating day for Burt. A damp, musty smell always emanated from the "back room" of Gran's kitchen. Essentially it was an add-on room used for storing various household and kitchen wares, some canned good, etc. It would smell like a damp basement, and there was always an open packet of rat poison on the floor in the corner. When something couldn't be found, you would invariably find it in the back room. Bug spray? Top shelf, just inside the door. Cookie sheets? Inside and to the right.

In her culinary prime, Granny Ocle was a damn fine cook, and she looked for excuses to cook for a crowd. Probably my favorite memories of Gran's house were evening dinners of pan fried chicken, mashed potatoes with homemade country gravy, and fresh corn. The adults would clean up and play some cards, and Burt & I would watch a game in the living room. I talk about how I got my love of cooking, and cooking for a crowd from my mom, but I know where we both really got it from. In time, Gran's eyesight worsened, and her cooking suffered because of it. We would eventually take over the brunt of holiday cooking duties, but Gran's kitchen always remained the same.

All it took was one chance encounter with a skillet full of imitation breakfast sausage, and there I was again, 10 years old, back in a place that I guess I've never really left, now that I remember it.


Mickey said...

Great story, Dixon. I hope everyone remembers Grandma's house as fondly as you (and I) do.

One question: How is it that you can remember every detail about Gran's kitchen, but you can't remember where you put your planner 5 minutes ago?

Dixon said...

Hey, where IS my planner?? Goddammit.

Just one of the many wonders of Dixon, my friend. As I always say....

If I could only use my powers for good....

Trevor said...

Dude, you nailed it! Yet another Dixon fostered piece of wordsmithing that brought a tear to my eye.

You did fail to mention the ever present bag of stale chips (Bugles or Cheese Puffs) in the pantry that always seemed to hit the spot.

Dixon said...

She always had a box of some carmel-encrusted popcorn snack, such as Crunch & Munch, Fiddle-Faddle, or Poppycock. No discernable difference between any of them. Always there, though.

Jessica said...

Great post! Made me think of my own grandma's kitchen, and how I should put something in writing to capture the memories. Thanks for the trip back to my childhood, and thanks for sharing yours!