Sunday, 16 March 2008

Significant Doors ... and other things, part 3

Just inside the kitchen door I can't recall, the floor was smooth. It was plain grey cement until Gramma convinced Daddy to cover it with square lino tiles ... boring bland beige with small streaks of yellow and turquoise. I remember the two of them down on their hands and knees matching tile corners and straight edges, and deliberately alternating streaks vertical -- horizontal -- vertical -- horizontal. Personally, I liked smooth grey cement. To my child eyes, it was a wonderful surface for bouncing balls and always felt cool under bare feet during scorching Okanagan summers.

It was important to Gramma to wax and buff those new lino tiles up to a civilized shine prior to Auntie Elsie's first visit from Montreal. Auntie Elsie was Daddy's family. No matter how much wax Gramma applied, those lino tiles drank it up faster than parched desert sand drank water from a garden hose, and offered nary a hint of shine in return.

Straight across from the kitchen door I can't recall were three steps leading up to our front room. The steps remained bare cement. When Auntie Elsie and cousin "Bun" finally visited, I sat there, tucked my new wool tartan kilt over skinny scabby knees, and listened to Daddy and Auntie Elsie talking and talking. I was fascinated. They were really blood brother and sister. "Brother" and "sister" were not just polite church terms. I was an only child, unfamiliar with the concept of siblings before her visit.

Our kitchen was long north to south, and narrow east to west. The north end, our dining nook, had a large window looking out across alfalfa fields, Mike's house in the near distance, and McIntyre's "Indian Head" bluff beyond. Daddy said he built our house the way he did just for that view, and he didn't see any reason for curtains. Gramma said leaving curtains open for neighbours to peer in was uncivilized, and windows without curtains were just plain barbaric. Mike wasn't a barbarian. He was only Roman Catholic, and I don't think he could see into our dining nook unless he walked clear across the alfalfa field and stood in our driveway. I was pretty sure even a Roman Catholic would never deliberately do anything that rude.

Our kitchen table was chrome, and the pattern on its formica top matched the pattern on our vinyl chair seats. I sat on a stool that was custom made for me in Daddy's woodwork shop. It was painted pale pink and had a cushy red leather seat. When Lester Pester or Ellen came to visit, they were given my stool because they were younger than me and I had to kneel on a chair to reach my plate. Oh how I despised them both for that! As an only child, I didn't share my possessions well.

The south end of our kitchen also had a window, much smaller, above our small square stainless steel kitchen sink. That window faced our garden and well, and the house of yet another Gramma until she moved away and Buddy's family moved in. Our kitchen sink remained unattached to plumbing. Water had to be carried in from our well, and used water drained into a slop bucket and from there was applied sparingly to Everbearing strawberries planted at the base of the hops, or to tiny spreads of lavendar and lily of the valley growing under young elm trees outside our kitchen window. We were very conscious of water conservation long before it became a hot topic. Until I was eight years old -- being both small and skinny for my age -- I bathed in our kitchen sink on week days and cold winter days.

Along the west wall of our kitchen, between sink and steps to our front room, stood a long countertop where Gramma kneaded bread. David used to call her baking "Auntie's Dirty Dishwater Bread" because she started the yeast in warm water with a bit of molasses, and the resulting foam look dirty dishwater grey. Her bread tasted just fine to me. Of course, I didn't experience white Wonder bread until I was seven years old. We kept flour and sugar in big barrels under the countertop, and "spuds" for the week in an attached bin. Our wood box, a bin on casters for kindling storage, also fit under that countertop. None of those barrels or bins fit right to the back wall, so skinny little child me had a convenient "secret" hiding place safer than under a bed. The monsters in the dark never crawled into my under-counter hiding place.

During our last year in our house on Island Road, we got our first "new" fridge. It was white white a domed top, and the word " : : : : ator" on its door. I didn't know the difference between new and second hand yet. Our fridge was placed at the end of the long countertop, next to the light switch and stairs up to our front room. That new "convenience" had an enormous and tremendously heavy glass tray under a tiny freezer pan and its insides iced up so quickly that it had to be defrosted practically every weekend with kettles of boiling water and application of an ice pick. However, our fridge meant we could have Neopolitan ice cream at least once a month and didn't have to keep butter and cream in a metal bucket down the well.

Our wood cookstove stood on the east side of our kitchen, left as you entered the kitchen door I can't recall. Our cookstove was black and chrome, and sat on tall curved legs. The warm space under it was big enough for Annabelle's little blanket, or a box of fragile but noisy day-old baby chicks. There was no chimney in our kitchen. Smoke went up the stovepipe and out the wall where the necessary opening was surrounded by a ridged metal disk. Occasionally that stovepipe glowed red hot and we had to dampen down the stove's flu and cool the stovepipe with buckets of hot water. I remember puzzling over hot water being cooler than smoke. Auntie Vivien's wood cookstove had a water heater attached to its right side; ours did not. We didn't heat great quantities of water week days, except during "canning" season. Wash water for hands, faces and teeth, and for washing feet, armpits and "down there" before changing into Sunday clothes was always cold. To this day I cannot bear brushing my teeth with cold water!

We made toast on our wood cookstove two different ways, and I loved both. We fried bread in plenty of hot lard in a big black cast iron frying pan, or opened a stovetop lid and toasted bread dry over open flames. Whenever it was just Daddy and me at home, he let me warm my clothes on the open oven door and get dressed for the day right there in the kitchen beside the stove. When it was just Daddy and me, he heated up canned meatballs and gravy for our supper by putting opened tins right on top of the cookstove. After those special meals, we always ate instant chocolate pudding served with extra milk and sugar for dessert.

Thelma and Larry brought us a new electric kitchen stove for Christmas one year -- the second to last year we live in that house. Larry helped Daddy move our wood cookstove out the kitchen door to the patio. Unfortunately, our house didn't have appropriate wiring for the new appliance, and Christmas dinner had to be cooked outside. Our wood cookstove had also been our only heat source, so Daddy had to quickly install a wood heater in our front room. It was an Ashley Airtight, and it just wasn't the same.

I had no way of knowing then that much bigger changes were going to befall us, and that other significant doors would soon come my way. While I can still clearly remember many aspects of our kitchen in the house on Island Road -- from the spots on the ceiling where Lester Pester and I bounced silly putty to the door stop made out of a Malkin's jam can filled with cement -- I can neither recall that kitchen door nor many other significant doors. For example ... (to be continued)