My Kitchen is in a Dumpster on the Street

3 years ago


Thirty years ago, we walked into the kitchen of the house we wanted to buy and stood in the breakfast nook watching the recently-divorced owner eat her pancake dinner. She told us that she had decided to sell the house to us instead of someone who met her price earlier because we were newly married and had an 11-year old daughter/step-daughter. The house seemed massive to me, more house than I'd ever envisioned, coming from a two-bedroom flat, but my husband was set on it. This was going to be the house for us. And so it became our house, truly our house, so much so that it's hard to imagine ever living anywhere else.

The kitchen sported a harvest gold sink, avocado green cupboards and white Formica counters. Shelves in unreachable places, a wood-shuttered radiator, and a couple of drawers for mysterious, undetermined uses rounded out our new kitchen's charms. But I was still thinking as a renter. The kitchen was what was there. So live with it. Anyway, all of it synced really well with my single mom cooking skills - frozen pizza and mac and cheese out of a box. Who needed a fancy kitchen?

But now after annual arguments about remodeling the kitchen and a parallel evolution of my husband's interest in cooking, we have made the leap, the whole 9 yards - granite counters, new appliances, new windows, custom-made cupboards. After so many years of not caring, it's as if much richer people have taken over our tastes and wallets. We are pretending to know what we're doing (like so much else in our lives).

The kitchen is sealed off now. There are workmen in there but I don't see them, only hear them banging on the walls. Later tonight, we'll unzip the seal and peek inside. Last night I saw that the interior wall of my old house is made of brick. A very hidden secret.

The workmen haul barrels of wood and cupboards, flooring, and pipes out to the dumpster parked in front of our house. I look at it and realize that's our kitchen in there.

It's the kitchen where

...our 11-year old daughter kept her new puppy, the beloved Davey who would live with us for the next 17 years. husband, on the phone from Nicaragua, described our newly adopted 21-month old son to me. "I'm with the Baby Nelson right now, Jan." I leaned on the stove with the old yellow phone pressed to my ear, weak with elation at our amazing fortune.

...I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my parents, reformed anti-Semites, and my Jewish mother-in-law, whose worst fear was that her son would marry a Gentile, and it was cordial and glowing as if everyone had forgotten who they weren't supposed to like.

...we crammed ourselves around the breakfast nook table every single night for dinner, adding a high chair, another chair, and another until an usher was needed to get us all safely seated.

...I talked to my mother on the phone for the last time.

...I put up a big sheet of paper one Thanksgiving so we could say what we were thankful for and no one wrote anything because life, right then, was so hard.

...we got good news and bad news, worried about money and our jobs, analyzed the news of the day,and wondered if our kids would turn out okay.

...We had new babies in high chairs, more Donald Duck dishes, and alphabet magnets on the refrigerator.

That's our kitchen in that dumpster, every harvest gold, avocado green piece of it. I'm looking at it right now, the scraps and shreds. It's time to see it go but I have to give the old kitchen its due: it was pretty much where we've lived our lives for the past thirty years.

The new kitchen will  certainly be better, very classy, stainless steel, beautiful but it will never be as rich as the one in the dumpster.




Jan Wilberg


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