This particular posting will become part of a chapter in what will hopefully become my next novella. It will be a memoir of my last two years as the Hospital/Home bound Program Instructor for a school district in rural Kentucky.
My unique job over the last two years has presented me with the opportunity to sit in the kitchens of literally hundreds of people’s homes. I’ve been in the kitchens of both wealthy families and the harshly disadvantaged and everyone in between. I can tell so much about people by simply and discreetly perusing their kitchens, what they contain, and the condition they’re in.
The kitchen I was in today was small but very clean. There were pictures, notes, and colored plastic letters all over the new, black refrigerator. The electric range was also black and sat beside the fridge. There were shiny, stainless steel pots and pans atop it ready for action. Everything had been straightened and organized as if for an important guest. This kitchen didn’t appear to produce large quantities of food but I can tell that very good things had been made there with love. Someone had cleaned the floors and under and between the appliances. On top of the cabinets decorative plates and figurines were arranged into little vignettes that seemed to tell the stories from the family’s past.
At this time last year I was regularly visiting the kitchen of a very poor single-mother. The floor was wooden, and I don’t mean what most people do when they say wood floors, it was made of boards. Unfinished, old, dirty planks covered with dog and cat urine and feces, some old and some new. A 25 pound sack of Russet potatoes leaned against the wall and the sink was full of dirty, unmatched dishes. The cabinets had no doors which at times would expose scenes such as a kitten sitting amongst the sparse cans and boxes of food eating from a mostly empty bag of chips. The cupboards and walls had smears of filth and in the winter rats could be heard scurrying within the walls. The mother would sit silently in the other room next to a half-empty, green aquarium with a lit cigarette, drifting in and out of consciousness and reading books that had been delivered by the county Bookmobile. During the fall and spring my nose would burn from the animal odor, and in the winter the exhaust from the wood-burning heater masked the smell but would leave my clothes reeking of a campfire. I would go there twice a week to teach her son, whom she kept home from school for no good reason except I think to keep her company.
I can tell by the presence and brand of hot sauce or olive oil on the counter if a family has traveled and to where. I can tell by the cleanliness and tidiness of a kitchen the level of education the family members have had. I can usually tell within 10 seconds if the parents are native to rural Kentucky or if they’ve moved there from Ohio or Michigan, as so many have.
I can also sense the general arrangement of the family by the arrangement of items in the kitchen. Two married, biological parents have kitchens like no other. Not always as sparkling and organized as the high-functioning, educated, professional single-mothers, but quite ready to make wonderful food with seasoned utensels. Functional families have functioning kitchens.
I am fascinated how one’s kitchen can be such an open book about one’s family. Just a quick glance can tell me so much about a family’s health, values, and mind set. Their socioeconomic status gets revealed in their salt and pepper shakers and visible condiments. I’ve come to many of these truths without even opening any kitchen junk-drawers. Which reminds me, when I get home from work today I have some dishes to do.