My grandmother’s eyes would sparkle when she told us she cooked lunch for the “old people” at the senior’s centre. We would laugh because at 80 she was one of those old people. We knew she was old -but she really wasn’t. Once a week she would walk down to the Sister Kennedy Centre to with lunch for anyone who dropped by. She refused to serve the canned soup and sandwiches supposed to be on the menu. Instead, she would bring homemade chili, soup, or stew with fresh baked buns. People would call her at home to see what she was bringing. She was given a volunteer medal for her help but must not have gone to the volunteer banquet. The medal was found in an office a few years after her death and given to her daughter.
She wasn’t always in the kitchen. She had a vegetable garden, loved her flower beds, was involved with her church, and enjoyed watching curling on television while visiting with children, grandchildren, and even great grandkids. But it’s sitting at the kitchen table listening to the grownups talk that I remember most.
The back door opened into the kitchen. You climbed a few broken, rotting stairs – walked through a dark, equally dilapidated shed, opened the back door, and yelled “hi”. The first thing you saw was the small round table. A jar filled with spoons to stir cream and sugar into your tea always sat in the centre of the table. Instead of sitting in the living room visitors would sit at the table chatting with a cup of tea and sweets. I remember Gramma, my mom, and aunt telling lewd jokes and bursting into laughter. We children, not understanding, would giggle too. Boy could they laugh!
The kitchen was a square shaped room with the stove in the northwest corner. Right beside the stove was the doorway to the little used dining room. Between the stove and the fridge was a counter with a bread box. Some of her many plants and knickknacks sat on the counter in front of the window that looked out onto the train tracks.
On the other side of the kitchen was the door to one of the two small main floor bedrooms. Between the bedroom and bathroom door was a wall where she kept her portable washing machine. This fascinating contraption hooked into the kitchen sink. When not in use the top was used for storage.
My favourite picture of Gramma, the one that sighs “that’s her”, is one of her with a red-checked apron on – the one that tied behind her neck – standing in front of the stove with two big pots on it. The pots were always big because she had to feed eight kids and then all those grandchildren. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years were always at her house until we switched to having them at my parent’s house.
The meals would always be turkey with all the trimmings. There wasn’t enough table space so most of us ate in the living room on couches, or chairs. The lucky ones got a tv table. One New Years Day Gramma transitioned to homemade pizzas to the delight of the teenagers. She was tired of turkey and so were we. We kids would try to escape before it was time to do dishes. But our parents had a way of making us feel guilty if we didn’t stay to help.
I was lucky to have a grandmother whose love-filled kitchen made my childhood special. My husband also tells stories of his gramma’s kitchen and the lunches she made for him. It’s those simple meals that are now our now our comfort foods.