Many farm families think of the kitchen as the house “great room”—the entrance, the exit, and the nerve center. Mom says an official kitchen also needs a window that opens onto the farm operation—a type of captain’s bridge. “Our window faces east,” she says. “The sun rises over the pasture and full moons sit large over the neighbor’s field on summer nights. I watch tractors heading to the field, cars on the lane, and cattle trying to jump the fence. Occasionally I’ll see a crop duster in the distance or a blue heron rise from the creek.”
Mom likes the view, but she isn’t so poetic about the inside décor. “The linoleum floor looks like we have wild weekend barbecues inside, and the stove is old enough to land a spot on Antiques Roadshow.” She and Dad have held court in the room since they were married in 1949, and Mom knows fancy appliances haven’t been the key. “We added that sliding glass door at the back in the 1980s and knocked out a wall. Since then, the light and open space have made it a real gathering spot.”
Of course the kitchen means food and regular meals, but it can be a magnet for other reasons—party room, quick stop, kids’ playroom, and TV den. The oak table gets used for card games, board games, puzzles, coffee breaks, goofy chit-chat, serious conversation, and the weekly “tonica night”—the hours after 5:00 p.m. on Fridays when anyone and her dog can stop in. Friends, relatives, in-laws, and outlaws sometimes add to the music and good cheer. And the dog reference is no figure of speech—my sister Mary usually brings Bertha, the only dog bigger than Clifford. Bertha slobbers a bit, sits quietly, and often appears ready to pull up a chair at the table during card games.
Even during Dad’s busiest farming years, he joined the family at the table for meals—somebody had to help Mom keep us kids from flicking peas and kicking each other under the table. Brother Kevin runs the operation now, but Dad “still likes to play with tractors.” He has, however, become a kitchen jockey too. He knows how to gather the mixer, flour, and rolling pin on baking days. “Your mother has me well trained. We can whip up loaves of bread or a batch of cookies about as fast as those smooth-talkin’ foodies on cable TV.” With a growing mob of great-grandkids making frequent visits, the cookies don’t last long.
Dad has grown to appreciate the history of the kitchen also. He remembers hot summer days when the women had canning sessions, or they might prepare a “threshers’ meal” for twenty men working in the fields. “Grandpa Bill designed the original room in the 1890s,” he said. “I imagine it had a wood stove, water pump, and one door to the outside—an important escape hatch since the only toilet was an outhouse in the backyard.”
Grandpa Bill and his ancestors join a gallery of family members on the wall. Brother Tom has fashioned wooden plaques to display family photos, so if our table conversation starts to lag, we can pull out some folklore about “goodtime” Great Uncle Berry or laugh about the way we looked at family gatherings decades ago. “Hey Annie. If you’d put on a flowery hat, you’d be the spittin’ image of Grandma Callahan.”
“Who are you, the Fashion Police?”
A farm kitchen is often the social center, but it can also be a sanctuary. Dad still lives in a world of print so newspapers, magazines, and books sit in various piles around the room. A partially completed jigsaw puzzle is scattered on a card table near the back sliding door. Mom maneuvers pieces and watches birds at the feeders out back as they come with the seasons, as do the snow drifts on the deck or the spring dust blowing in off the fields.
She has seen the world turn for more than 65 years in that kitchen, and with help from Dad, she’s made it a small world of its own. “I watched out the front window as you kids marched up the lane to the school bus,” she says. “I’d see you bouncing back down in the afternoon and wonder how the day went so fast. Now I look out the window and see your grandkids playing in the yard and wonder how life went so fast.”
by dan gogerty