Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I rather like living without a real kitchen, because it forces creativity and also a visceral understanding of what it took great-great grandmothers to get meals to the table. I have few pots, limited heat sources, and as of today, no running water outside of the bathroom. Counter space is part of a table. I walk to to the basement to or to the fridge in a back room to get all but the most frequently used items. If I forget something, it's another trip. One learns to carry a tray everywhere.
Photo: A kitchen in transition: to the left, a door moved, to the right new windows, the old cabinets largely gone, the ceiling down and the new wiring and lighting in progress. Since this picture, the sink has gone bye-bye, too.
Most of the china, glass, and silver went to basement storage, and that has been a delight: it is very clear just how much mental effort went in, over the years, on selecting proper dishes and so on. Now the essentials are to hand on open shelves, and in the pretty, light-filled dining room that I've always enjoyed, so that table setting is a pleasure and dinners more elegant than in the family dining area in back, now taken over by drills, nails, and dust.
Photo: Household archaeology: the white tubes are ceramic spacers that neatly guided old fabric-covered wires carrying power to the original outlets, one or two per room. Houses were more dimly lit and more people used central overhead lamps hung from a chain. Curte had just removed the wires, in this picture; I rather wish he had left them for history's sake, for they weren't attached to anything. Curte's dad , a former contractor, says no one has done nice neat electrical work like that for fifty or sixy years.
The dark beams are the original 1923 beams; the gray lines showing on them are where the lath was nailed up, and the lines themselves are remnants of the innermost -- roughcoat - plaster, that was strengthened with horsehair.
The outdoor gas grill doesn't work for frying, as the gas is too far from the pan to heat it efficiently, but Curte's mother thoughtfully sent his Dad over with her mother-in-law's old electric frying pan recently and so now sautes and johnnycakes are back in the picture. My mother lent me a microwave, and I have had to play about-face with an old prejudice against them. We've not had one for seven years, and I distrusted them before that, and was always bold to tell Mom that I didn't like what came out of them. Well, guess who is eating her words, now it comes down to scratch? No, I am still not fond of them, but if we want separately cooked vegetables or potatoes or hot oatmeal, the machine does a nice job steaming the former and a gluey but edible job of the latter, and I am very thankful.
Photo: More household archaeology. The bit of wall jutting out to the left of the door is the original brick flue. We discovered that the original wall color was a soft green then very popular for kitchens and other utility areas. That round mark? That's a portion of an old cover to a stovepipe. Now that was a discovery. We knew that the house was heated with coal, because the old coal chute it just outside the kitchen window. The coal man shoveled coal down the chute into a cellar bin. We did not, however, know that the earliest kitchen stove was coal-fired. I expected gas, for some reason. Between the kitchen stove and the coal chute nearby, no wonder there was so much old coal dust above the plaster ceiling!
(*Note: I live in Kentucky now and married into a Kentucky family here since this was Virginia. It's "bucket", in Kentucky. I've been saying bucket now for years, but when it's time to fetch and carry liquid, it's "pail" that I remember, just as "Did you check down cellar" or "The ash can's full" will come out once in awhile rather than "basement" or "garbage can". Curte has a good time with that, but he says "I reckon", so there. Once in awhile, staring at that thing we sit on together, I cannot recall any word at all except "davenport", when it's "sofa" everyone knows, or "couch", and when putting away laundry, it's to the "bureau" it goes, as much as to the "chest". And when I am dog-tired, darned if "broughten" and other strange past tense usages worm their way up from child-speak or the idiom of my birthplace, I don't know which.)
Photo: the rest of the kitchen. The wall moves back, and it's sayonara to the sink for a new one goes in another corner, to save space. Later owners colored the walls lime green. It was actualy a really sunny, pretty color. The original floor? Resin pine, painted bluey-green around the edges, with a rectangle of linoleum laid in the center. Years of water trailing off the linoleum and later stains from floors tacked on top left the original strong, but too stained to refinish. So we are painting it once again, a bluey-green, but in a checkerboard pattern. The original ceiling? Apparently either a mustard (unless that was a primer), or a soft robin's-egg-blue, a gorgeous color. I saved a little piece. Our porch ceiling we painted that color, so it's good to know that the first owners liked that color, too.
So we get to clean all of it, over and over and over and over and over. Curte and Mom and I split this work; I am expecially grateful for Mom's help, since it's not even her house. It takes an unholy amount of time and effort.
At this juncture I think I have a pretty good grasp on what living in a town where coal fires heated homes, or on a farm during a drought, would have been like to those who had to maintain the house, whether mama or maid. It's good to understand this. I am going to understand it very well indeed when the two-three months this job will take is over.