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MARY L. PALERMO

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 5/15/2016 |




To this day I can recall the sounds and smells as my mother diligently prepared the various meals for us from the menus she planned throughout the week. Back in the 60’s the kitchen was primarily the woman’s territory, with father’s going outside the home to bring home the wages that supported the family. That is how it was in our family, viewed as the “ideal” family. As I grew older, I was slowly assigned tasks to further prepare me for my role as a woman. The successful family was often viewed as the children playing outside without a care, or watching television on a brand-new set. The wife cooked in her highly equipped kitchen, while cleaning house with her powerful vacuum cleaner, all decked out in her finest. Various television series like “Leave It to Beaver” portrayed women meeting their husband’s arrival home from work wearing high heels, and pearls with every hair in place. Of course, if there was the ultimate need for the woman to work, that was viewed as a secondary necessity. I remember the excitement when one week my family awaited the arrival of my mother’s new Frigidaire Flair Electric Range. My father had totally updated the kitchen laying in new floor tiles among other things. A new den and additional bedroom were also added. I remember the thrill of the celebration once all was complete. I was allowed to have my birthday party where all my friends were allowed to actually roller skate on this new floor throughout the house. Mom had baked me a cake for my party on her new pull out range. Her and the other mom’s gossiping as they sat cutting my cake into portions. Each licking pink frosting off their fingers as some discussion about the newest fashion trend was taking place. It brings back very fond memories of the innocence of those times.


To say my mother was an ideal cook, like my grandma, would be stretching it a bit. My dad’s mother, Grandma, even entered contests. In her kitchen, I was given “secret” family recipes handed down from generation to generation. On Sundays after church we would eat at my grandparents. Grandma would have open her special journal preparing one of those recipes. From the batter to fry up her chicken, to pound cake, it could be found written in her fine handwriting. I remember once sitting on stool in her kitchen as she stood with spit-fire in her eyes relating to my mother how Ms. Brown had stole one of her jelly recipes. She was just a wee little thing compared to my mother who came from Norwegian stock. In my grandmother’s world, honor was a deeply ingrained as her deep southern roots.


Out of all the memories I have in my mother’s kitchen, one stands out. My mother in her own way, didn’t have a lot of confidence in her cooking skills. She used to fault her upbringing in a Norwegian family and sustaining for the most part on smoked fish as the reason. You never mentioned seafood toher, she would literally get sick at just the word. But this one year she got brave, and became the homeroom mother for my third grade class. This would require her to plan that year’s Christmas party with the class partaking in the editable delicacy’s she would be providing. This was a huge responsibility which required her to assign smaller tasks to some of the other mothers. This was usually just providing drinks or napkins. Mom decided on making a gingerbread house, and giving each child two good size gingerbread men. So the day before the party the baking begun.


I remember the bowls, and the sweet distinctive smell of spices as we whipped. Bags of candy everywhere. Gumdrops, candy canes, mints, we had it. We mixed and rolled out the dough just thin enough to cut out with the cookie cutters. Mom bought many trays so we would really see the efforts of our work. But then tragedy set in and so did panic. We found that after cooling, the gingerbread men were sticking to the trays. We would end up breaking off an arm or leg out of half our attempts. Well, at first we ate our ‘mistakes’ and slowly iced the remaining ones. The house we had just cemented together totally collapsed, so I saw mom just about give up. You have to envision this mess we were slowly creating to really understand just how bad it was. Bowls of colorful icing, waxed paper, half broken cookies everywhere. I knew mom was beginning to panic when dad came in to save the day. Little did I know, he was a master cookie maker thanks to grandma. So after my brother was called in to help eat away more rejects, dad first put on an apron and took charge. First he somehow successfully managed to get the house to “cement” together. He seemed to know just when and how to remove the cookies until we had a large number piled on a plate. We sat , me and mom icing and putting candies as dad began humming Christmas tune. So that year at the Christmas party, my mother just beamed as my classmates and their mothers complimented her. In that kitchen that night I really got to see firsthand the love my parents shared. They were a team, each helping the other when needed. Every year I make gingerbread house for my grandchildren and tell this true story. My parents have passed many years ago, but this memory will always live on.


So looking back on the role the kitchen played in our family growing up. Well it was immeasurable. The social interaction, the various roles that now seem sadly gone. With the arrival of more fast food chains, and machines such as dishwashers to do more of the ‘mothering’ chores, something is lost. Many late nights after doing my homework, I would help my mother in the kitchen. I would dry the dishes she had just washed. We would talk, many times she told me stories handed down from my grandmother who had been born in Norway.  The windows open, lacy curtains blowing in the breeze. The sound of bullfrogs and locusts chirping as we lived in a world where our doors were unlocked at night. Now I own grandmother’s journal and those same cookie cutters with pride. Some memories you can never let fade away. For life for each of us is but a short journey. Sharing and handing down what has come before enriches our life’s and sets an example for those to come.


MARY L. PALERMO

COPYRIGHT MAY, 2016

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