My mother's kitchen. Pulling a pie plate from the shelf, I stopped once again, disgusted at the water spots on the Pyrex. What is wrong with mom, I thought. Getting older.
I never really noticed that all the pots and pans were immaculate, and the glasses never had water spots, as a kid. I suppose that’s because it was more important to her that everything was perfect when she was younger. I guess for me, it was now easier to obsess about those things because she still had the energy to do something about it, even if her mind and body aren’t cooperating like they should.
I’m home for a quick overnight visit with my folks. I notice other signs of forgetfulness or intentional laxness in housekeeping habits. There is a wet dishrag in the bathroom sink, not hung neatly over the shower rod. Her brush is sitting on top of the counter, instead of put away neatly in the drawer. Books are piled up in the living room, not just in the den where they “belong”.
Sometimes my dad does the dishes now, even though they have a dishwasher. Maybe because they are using fewer dishes and eating smaller meals, or more meals from the microwave, or senior specials at local restaurant.
I make note of a dusty film on the top of the buffet in the dining room. She is shorter than everyone in the rest of the family, so it really is amazing that for all those years she kept that up, when she obviously had to use a step ladder to reach it.
I remember shiny aluminum mixing bowls. She must have wiped down all the glasses right out of the dishwasher, because the technology was not what it is today and I get spots all the time.
I use the bathroom, wash my hands, and note that the towels are the same ones they had when I was growing up, faded and threadbare now, but no holes. I guess a hole would be the sign it’s time to buy new towels, and transition that one to the rag pile. The sheets on the bed are really soft from literally years of washing.
I love wearing my dad’s T-shirts to bed, when I stay up there. They too are really, really soft from the years of washing.
All of their clothes fit in one medium sized closet. My mom probably has 4 or 5 pairs of shoes, my dad maybe 2. I don’t recall ever seeing him wear sandals or flip flops, even at the beach. I’m guessing she had 3 sweaters, and he had one or two jackets and a sports coat or two.
When I was young, my mother’s hairstyle was the stereotypical WWII bob with a flat crown, and a roll of hair surrounding her head. She set it every night in pin curls, and then put a pink cap on top with ruffled accents to keep them in place while she slept.
I remember my friend’s mother around the corner dressed in a very classic manner, tailored slacks or skirts, twin set, pearls, and loafers. Every day, all year.
Another neighboring mom was our city’s sexpot. Her husband worked for Coca- Cola (free sodas at block parties), she drove a powder blue T-bird with bucket seats and white leather interior. She looked like the actress Dianne Cannon (sp) with big full lips (before Botox), poufy blonde hair, and you could always see cleavage. Always. This one I’m sure drove the other ladies on the block crazy, but I never remember hearing them talk about her. They must have, their husbands would have commented!
Sometime during my childhood we remodeled the kitchen, added a half bath, enlarged a bedroom to turn it into a family room, and added a third bedroom. I’m thinking this probably happened around the time of my brother’s birth, since they had two girls who could share a room, but now with a boy, it was time to add one more separate space.
The kitchen appliances were pink. I think they were all Kenmore, from Sears. We had a double sink, a built in oven, refrigerator, and an electric cook top. There were sliding drawers under the stove where the pots were kept (bet they cost a pretty penny at that time). There was a linen closet on the far side of the fridge that held a broom, a dust mop, a vacuum and a feather duster. A shelf on top held Windex and furniture polish.
Under the sink were sponges, dishwashing liquid and Ajax, and a dish drainer. This is also where the vases were kept. The top shelf in both of the cabinets on the outside wall held my mother’s collection of water glasses from different states or tourist attractions. Melmac plates and coffee mugs filled the rest of one cabinet and in the second a few cookbooks, recipe box, and some microwave dishes. We loved those dishes- you could drop them on the floor or throw them like a Frisbee, and they didn’t chip or break
The countertops were pink and grey, a laminate of some sort, and the floors were linoleum, and looked like fake mosaic tiles. Not like real mosaic, but obviously fake mosaic. It must have been popular at that time.
On the countertop near the sink there were usually some tomatoes (in season) or lemons, and always African violets. Sometimes she’d sprout a potato, or sweet potato, and the vines would trail over the microwave.
In the fridge were the Corrigan staples: ketchup, Velveeta, hot dogs, baloney, salami, grape jelly and strawberry jam, Miracle Whip, American cheese, some carrots, some apples, some tomatoes. In the freezer were chicken pot pies, Swanson frozen dinners, tater tots, ice cream.
There was usually a meat loaf, or “corn patty cake” which was yeast dough with canned tomatoes, salami and Velveeta on top. In our neighborhood tacos were made with the pre-fib taco shells, or if the mom was really fancy, she actually fried them up herself using lots of Crisco, hamburger meat, shredded Velveeta, and in the early days, salsa was ketchup. I hate to admit it but every few years; I sneak into the store, buy a tiny little brick of Velveeta and a box of those horrible cardboard shells, and make tacos the same way. Never for company, but just for me.
Kraft Macaroni and cheese is another one of those comfort foods from my youth. And you know, I don’t buy white bread ever these days, but I still remember the taste of a grilled cheese sandwich on white bread with Velveeta cooked in butter, sitting on a plate next to a steaming bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup (the original). When I’m sick these days, I crave the comfort of that meal.
My mother had several signature dishes. She made cocktail meatballs for parties with friends, where all the ladies dressed up, and they served cocktails, and we were relegated to the back room to watch TV. These meatballs were served in a sauce of tomato, horseradish, chili sauce (Heinz, I think, the kind she used also for shrimp cocktail sauce, and chopped black olives. We loved them. The smell of the sauce filled the house, and we would always sneak in and grab as many as we could before the guests showed up, or my mother noticed what we were doing and shooed us out of the room.
Another one of the things we looked forward to each year were refrigerated pinwheel cookies, chocolate and vanilla dough rolled up, sliced and baked. I think she made them around Christmas time. I have the recipe, but they never taste as good as they did back then. I loved her meatloaf, which was lightened up with saltines, carrots and onions, with a crust of ketchup on the top. I still make it this way.
It’s funny how kids have different tastes in breakfast foods. I wonder if it is a physiological thing, allergies or sensitivities to different things.
My dreaded hated dish was eggs. Period. They disgusted me and she served them hard boiled, soft boiled or fried. I still hate them, but I now like the yolks if they are fully cooked, but the whites still gross me out. So she would try to get me to eat them because they were good for me, and it was an ongoing battle over the years. When we had a dog, I would feed the egg to it under the table. When we had no pets I would shove bits in my mouth and go into the bathroom and spit it out. When I was forced to swallow it, I would gag and feel nauseous.
SOS for me, creamed hamburger on toast. It was really yummy all buttery and the mom of my friend of across the street made it the best. I think she used Worcestershire sauce (one of the flavor enhancers’ common at the time).
©2010 Sharon J Corrigan