All during the past summer I puttered in the kitchen of my grandfather’s house. I perched on the high stool to shell peas, rolled biscuit dough at the Hoosier, washed grit and tiny snails from garden lettuce. I scooted out of my uncle’s way as he charged from stove to sink bearing a steaming kettle of potatoes or macaroni. At mealtime I laid two places on the oilcloth-covered table in the narrow dining room, taking the white ironstone plates from the big cupboard, bringing milk from the icebox, half a pie from the broad shelf in the pantry. All summer I helped to choose the groceries on twice-monthly trips to town, adding little delicacies to the list of staples which seldom changed.
Now it is autumn. After school I change quickly to old clothes and walk through falling leaves to my grandfather’s house next door. My uncle relinquishes the kitchen happily, retreating to endless little tasks elsewhere in the house or yard. Left in charge and free to experiment, I spend these late afternoons scrubbing potatoes, searching out a pretty bowl for applesauce, stirring up gingerbread from a neighbor’s recipe tucked in the dog-eared old book which bears my great-grandmother’s notes.
My grandfather stumps up from the barn during a break in his chores and stays long enough to peel the potatoes and quarter apples for the sauce. He keeps the kitchen knives honed to razor sharpness, and doesn’t trust me, I think. We share an apple, slice by slice from the point of his jackknife, eating it with Royal Lunch crackers and cheddar cheese, to fortify ourselves until suppertime.
My grandfather replenishes the wood box and heads out to attend to the milking. I check the progress of my gingerbread, then wander through to spend a few moments in the front parlour. Two of the windows face westward, and the slanting sun of early October filters mellow amber light through the fading red and gold of sugar maples on the hill. The light touches the gilded oval frame which surrounds the portrait of my great-grandparents, Eddie and Eliza, caught forever in the graceful dignity of mid-life. In shadow on the south wall hangs the military portrait of their son, Lawrence, killed in the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918. The old piano is here too, stolid on the worn ingrain carpet, on its dark-varnished top an unearthed box of my grandmother’s music, stashed away after her death years ago. I play at random from the Pilgrim Hymnal, The Golden Book of Songs, and attempt a few bars of waltzes and “rags” from the yellow tattered sheet music of the early 1900’s.
The thump of boots in the shed announces suppertime and I hurry back to the kitchen to put the meal on the table while my grandfather splutters and splashes at the hand sink, burying his face in the roller towel. I move the vinegar cruet closer to his plate and pour tea. My grandfather pulls out his chair, sniffing with pleasure at the homely aromas of simple food. The old dog clicks across the linoleum to be nearer in the comfortable assurance of handouts. Spoons tinkle against china, twilight moves softly against the windowpanes, extinguishing the afternoon’s gold. We eat slowly, companionably; an old man, a girl, and a dog, warmed by each other’s presence and filled by the savor of beef stew, applesauce and gingerbread.
Sharon D. Whitehurst
Wentworth, NH 1997