my mother's kitchen
By Kathryn Baxter
Today, I am watching my brother and mother prepare bagels in her kitchen. My brother reaches over my mother, looking for capers on the refrigerator door. My mother squishes the bagel as she tries to slice through it. I offer my brother some of the French press coffee I’ve just made. They joke with each other, smiling. Music streams out from my laptop. Steaks thaw in a baking pan next to the sink.
The playful fuss in the kitchen warms me. We aren’t together often, normally based in cities far away from each other. We’ve come such a long way - literally and figuratively. Today, Mom has a new husband who shares her load and her life. They laugh a lot. They play a lot. He cooks for her. And they are just getting started.
I have a hard time letting go of the last decade and a half. I still worry that her house will be taken away. The heart will break. The job will fall through. Though the title of my column may imply I’m going to share family recipes or recall warm childhood memories of watching my mom bake, it has little to do with feeling secure. It has not been an easy decade or so for this group. My mom has lived a dozen lives in this time span and my brother and I have shared roles of emotional supporter and friend to her through it it all.
Despite the generosity and kindnesses of friends to whom she felt overly indebted, as a matriarch herself, Mom had to hold a lot in so things would go smoothly. For years, she’s had only a bedroom to herself and sequestering herself to that space was stressful, but it was her only repose.
How do I know my mother has her life back? She has a kitchen. For quite a while, she had to share kitchens with generous friends. Now it’s up to her where her dishes go, how the leftovers are stored, and how much wine should be kept in the refrigerator. She chooses the kinds of milk and fruits and cookies she wants.
Right here, right now, in my mom’s kitchen, it feels like a new life. Or, maybe this feels more like our old life, catapulted into the present day - as though the intervening ten or fifteen years didn’t really happen. As though we never experienced the job losses and the foreclosure and the heartbreaks and the anxiety and the depression. Of course they happened. But today shows what resilience can bring. That, and luck. It is the great big silver lining.
But enough of that! Today we’re going to barbecue steaks and tuna and lobster tails. We're going to drink champagne and beer and wine, and we’ll laugh and we’ll play games and we’ll tell stories. We might even swim in the pool. (Yes, there is a pool!)
Today, Mom sits in her chair in their den, the room with the squishy furniture and the big TV. She talks about what we’ll have to eat tonight
in celebration of her recent wedding and my birthday.
This is what a good life looks like: an affordable mortgage, a playful and engaging partnership, a home to fill with souvenirs from her life. And a kitchen. Her kitchen.