Every freelancer has some particular reason for chancing life outside The Office. Having breakfast here, instead of at my desk in a fluourescent-lit cubicle, is one of mine. There are actually three huge windows, not counting the stained glass: one, facing east, just out of camera range to the left; one to southeast, behind the fridge; and a southwesterly one over the sink. The sun's first rays pour in from the garden, then flood the room in a shifting day-long westward march.
Want a nightmarish flashback? Oh, alright. Here we are, "move-in condition" circa 1986:
The stove had stood right below the stained-glass window, where the boarding-house residents had done wok-cookery for over a decade without, apparently, ever wiping up anything. Ever. The ambient aerosolized grease had settled all over the house, forming an impregnable foul layer we dubbed "bioscum"; in the kitchen, at ground zero, it formed an adhesive with the ferocity of flypaper. The vomit-green walls were a nice touch.
But even in this state, I could envision exactly my "country kitchen." Looking out the grease-blackened, fly-specked windows, I imagined dinner guests pulling up in the driveway as I stirred a fragrant pot. But it took five years to even start work--years during which we cooked downstairs in my mother's tiny alcove kitchenette and carried our food upstairs on trays to eat in front of our television set. (Eating together in Mom's apartment was an experiment that was tried and found wanting.) Yes: trays for five years, because the roof, boiler, and electric had sucked out all the cash we had.
The dream, finally activated by a bequest from a deceased aunt and uncle, was a modest one. Demolition back to the studs was a given. But without a budget to move plumbing stacks around, we were stuck with the same basic configuration, and because we refused to sacrifice the stained glass, we had little wall space for cabinetry. The layout, however, worked out fine: I can mess around at the stove while people sit at the kitchen table and chat. Spouse says it looks like the set for a cooking show. (One with cats as stagehands. Stagepaws?) The first episode, rushed into production as the paint dried, was an anniversary dinner for Spouse's parents in the summer of 1991; my mother-in-law, who wasn't well enough to fancy a restaurant meal, made it up the stairs for a home-cooked one, served up on china we'd unpacked from five-year-old newspaper in the wee hours of the morning. We lost her the following month, but treasure the recollection of her presence as we "christened" the kitchen that one blessed evening.
The CrazyStable Kitchen is a very messy set these days, and one badly in need of a paint job. But ours is not a family meant for one of those steely modern kitchens that looks like a minimalist morgue. Every bit that has settled here has a story to tell. There is plenty of colored glass in the windows to catch all that sun. (The ruby gem was salvaged by Uncle Don from a demolished Manhattan church.)
Here's the central medallion of the stained-glass window, sans bioscum. (It came off with a toothbrush and a product called Zud.)
The hutch, bought cheap at an auction, holds no cooler object than what I call "the head of Chef Otto," by a friend's talented sculptor sister in Ohio. My Friend with Exquisite Taste was responsible for the grey-kittie teapot; the blue-and-white ware comes mostly from Park Slope stoop sales.
But what caught my eye this morning was our multi-generational family art gallery. Top left, a watercolor sketch of a hawkweed by my grandmother, Fanny Granger Dow, a noted watercolorist in her day who studied with William Merritt Chase. Top right, a cat named Porkchop, painted on a wooden plank by my favorite "outsider artist," Uncle Don. Bottom row: watercolors executed in a family workshop at the Brooklyn Museum's "First Night" last weekend by (left to right) Spouse, Child, and StableMistress. As the young instructor noted over our shoulders, "I see a theme here."
It was a house you would not think
Could hold such sacraments in things
Or give the wild heart meat and drink
Or give the stormy soul high wings
Or chime small voices to such mirth
Or crown the night with stars and flowers
Or make upon this quaking earth
Such steady hours.
William Rose Benét, The House at Evening (1920)