“A cook she certainly was, in the very bone and centre of her soul. Not a chicken or turkey or duck in the barn-yard but looked grave when they saw her approaching, and seemed evidently to be reflecting on their latter end; and certain it was that she was always meditating on trussing, stuffing and roasting, to a degree that was calculated to inspire terror in any reflecting fowl living.”
~ a description of Aunt Chloe from Uncle Tom’s Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
When I first read “A Room in the Past,” by Ted Kooser, I was immediately transported to my grandma’s kitchen. I spent a lot of my childhood there, and for the most part, it was a place of good food, comfort, and an endless supply of creamsicles. Except for one time.
When I was 5 or 6, my brother and I bought two chicks from the carnival. We kept them at Grandma’s house, because she had a big back yard. They were so cute and fuzzy, peep peeping amongst the rows of lettuce, green onions and cabbage, or resting in the shade of giant vanda orchids. Sometimes, Uncle serenaded them with his ukulele.
Every day after school, we ran over to Grandma’s to feed and visit our chicks, who grew so fast. But once they lost their yellow fuzz and turned into white feathered teenagers, they didn’t seem half as interesting. I’m glad I didn’t name either of them, because one afternoon Grandma decided she wanted to make fried chicken.
I won’t go into the gory details, but let’s just say that after I witnessed chicken murder, I could not, would not, eat fried chicken for a long time. It’s a good thing this chicken trauma was soon replaced by many other positive memories — Grandma mixing huge batches of kimchee in big metal tubs, or marinating mountains of beef short ribs in her special sauce. I listened to my aunts gossip, covered my ears at endless complaining, and tried to figure out why Uncle never ever spoke again after he returned from the war.
Grandma’s kitchen — the linoleum floors, the 50’s style chrome and oil cloth dinette set, the 100-lb bag of rice leaning against the wall, was her illustrious domain. Happy memories, yes, but sad because after all those years of being there with her, I still don’t know who she really was. Like the narrator says in Kooser’s poem, “she moved through this life like a ghost.”
Here is a photo of her at my first birthday party. She’s the one on the left, eating. Next to her is my other grandma and grandpa, and the other kids are my cousins.
This poem makes me want to bring Grandma back by writing down all the things I know about her — that she liked Popeye, soap operas, and owls; that she had 12 children and a cuckoo clock, but couldn’t read or write. Can I make her real, so she won’t be forever enshrouded in “housedresses of mist,” or “blue aprons of rain?” Maybe I can begin to understand how an otherwise loving and indulgent person could have cooked our chicks, or why she had to leave us behind.
A ROOM IN THE PAST (from One World at a Time, 1985)
by Ted Kooser
It’s a kitchen. Its curtains fill
with a morning light so bright
you can’t see beyond its windows
into the afternoon. A kitchen
falling through time with its things
in their places . . .
Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Simple and the Ordinary.
** Next week, I’ll be hosting a very special Poetry Friday, in honor of Bob Dylan. I hope you’ll join us by posting your favorite Dylan lyric, with some thoughts about his work. If you’re not into him, any other lyric or poem is perfectly cool! You can find a comprehensive list of his songs at BobDylan.com.
25 thoughts on “friday feast: in grandma’s kitchen”
Your story makes me think of my great-grandmother — who went blind when I was a child. She loved the Monkees!!! and listened to them on TV. She loved dark chocolate, had a figure like mine (when she died I inherited her brassier – as if the 1950’s styles would still work!), could tell the full life-stories of everyone on As The World Turns — from since the 1940’s or something — and would brush her broad fingers over my face to “see” me.
Keep writing your grandmother, Jama. She’s in there. You do have her in your head, real as life.
I agree with TadMack. I could almost see your grandmother from this post. Could you do a list poem about her? The 100 pound bag of rice alone is a priceless image.
I have a picture of my great-grandmother in my head, and for me, it’s all about how she loved her dog, a cocker spaniel. That dog lit her up.
I love Kooser. What a heartbreaker that last line is.
Looking forward to Bob Dylan Friday!
Karen Edmisten wrote:
What a wonderful post! Kooser is so simply evocative, and so are your memories here.
I happen to have posted about Kooser today, too.
Have a lovely Friday, and I’ll be back next week with Bob. 🙂
It’s Grandma week on LJ! I posted a tiny little entry about my Nana yesterday…
I love your imagery, especially the 100-pound bag of rice and the “housedresses of mist.” Wow, I’m misty-eyed, just thinking about our grandmas.
Re: TadMack says:
A great-grandmother who loved the Monkees and dark chocolate? What could be cooler? And yes, I will keep writing about her. She personifies my childhood.
A list poem sounds like fun. Almost all my relatives had 100-1b. bags of rice in their homes. It would be silly to purchase anything smaller.
Kooser kind of makes me want to move to Nebraska. Kind of.
Re: Karen Edmisten wrote:
Great minds think alike, Karen! I checked out all your past posts on him, too — wonderful . . .
It’s interesting what “little things” we remember about our lost loved ones. Idiosyncratic, even trivial. But how heavily we depend on those images to compensate for the void.
What great memories – and a wonderful poem to share.
I too get a really vivid impression of your grandmother from the details you give. The poem breaks my heart.
This also gets me thinking about kitchens. Even in this liberated age, I think my children/grandchildren will remember me most in the kitchen too.
Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the poem :)!
The kitchen is still the woman’s domain. It’s the heart of the home, certainly, but as you mention — it shouldn’t become a prison.
Oh, I am having so many funny/gruesome chicken memories all of the sudden. In 5th grade, I won a “chick” — one of the sweet little fuzzballs we’d hatched in science class — only to realize, on the bus on the way home, that it was no longer sweet or fuzzy. It was on it’s way to becoming a full-fledged rooster and it only lived one night at our house — on my dresser in a cage, with the dogs baying at the bedroom door — before it went to live with a friend on her ranch. I suspect fried chicken was its inevitable end. And then, another time, my little cousin fell in love with a chicken at a friend’s country house, only to have their dog do away with it on Sunday afternoon! My aunt and uncle worried about my cousin’s trauma, but she summed it up this way: That’s the thing about hunting dogs. They tend to kill your favorite chicken.
My grandmother passed away last year- thanks for this chance to reminisce.
We used to swat flies on the side of my godmother’s garage to feed to tiny, fuzzy chicks. (I wonder if they’d have preferred lettuce or green onions.) Then, when the chicks grew into chickens, we’d feed them our corn cobs. I used to love gathering the cobs from the plates and racing over to the chicken coop with them ~ and not just because it got me out of doing the supper dishes.
Your steely cousin sounds amazing! Glad I’m not the only one who had chicken trauma. I’m glad you weren’t asked to eat your rooster, though.
Sorry to hear that, John.
Ah, these chicken memories! Glad yours were all happy. Very clever way to get out of doing the dishes, BTW 🙂 . . . fess up.
I, too, witnessed the chicken murders when I was a child. It’s a memory I’d as soon forget.
Once was enough for me!
I, too, love Kooser, and I grew up close enough to Nebraska to feel like he often speaks for me in his poems. Sadly, not this one: I never knew either of my grandmothers. Your post and his poem make me long for a connection like that.
A Year of Reading
I kind of know how you feel, since I didn’t know my maternal grandfather at all. Happy to know you love Kooser, too!
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