As my best friend Scare astutely pointed out to me a couple of years ago, I get pretty down during the winter months. I am constantly cold in the winter, and all of a sudden when spring comes, I realize that my shoulders have been in my ears because I am constantly bracing against the elements, both physical and emotional. I dive into work, and become highly functional- ie: not engaged, just functional. I never realize that I was sad until spring comes. Once the thaw starts outside, my interior thaw begins. I realize that I have been putting away lots of things in order to make it through the winter, because I have limited resources, and most of them go towards keeping my head up. This last week I realized that one of those things has been homesickness.
I miss home. I miss things being easy. More than home, I miss my family. I miss those little daily things that make people family... the conversations, inside jokes, hugs, looks.... it seems to me that many of these daily things take place either in preparation for or while eating a meal. More specifically, they take place in the kitchen.
The heart of every home that I've ever lived in has been the kitchen. Not only is it the place with the food (which cannot be underrated) it is also the place of deep conversations over gallons of tea, the place where you open your college acceptance letter, the place where you play 'the magnet game' (2 points for getting the magnet to stick to the freezer part of the refrigerator, 1 point for getting it to stick to the fridge itself, 3 points and an extra turn for getting it to stick on the side), the place where you make enough crap mac to feed a small army after a night out, the site of the dog-bone hockey world championship, the place where you learned that the best way to ensure the family would come over is to make cookies, the site of poker games, the inaugural location of compulsory Friday night happy hour. I love the kitchen.
I have such fond memories of my grandmother's kitchen. Not only was good cooking knowledge passed down, but it was where I got to have her all to myself. As she helped me measure brown sugar, she would always impart some sort of invaluable knowledge: 'Sarah, we are making extra of these for the hospice patients', 'don't worry about measuring it exactly right, it'll be ok' or 'go get your brother, you should do this together'. I remember before Sunday dinners, she would be in there finishing off the gravy, I would be putting ice in the glasses on the table, somebody would be finishing the green beans and bacon... it was the smallest room in the house, yet it seemed to magically enlarge to hold everyone who was cooking, plus everyone who came in. Similarly, I've learned amazing things from my own mother in the kitchen. She taught me to try new recipes, to make sure to take time to sit and have a chat, to eat things that taste good, and then, learn to make them yourself. I always gravitate toward the kitchen when I am visiting people's homes. I suppose it's a sense of a well-being that comes from being in the kitchen. It is easy to have conversations there, easy to listen, easy to connect. Somehow, the kitchen is always warm.
Whenever I am feeling especially isolated and homesick, I go to the kitchen because this is where I can reconnect with people that I love, even if they don't know I am doing it. Everyone in my family has a specific dish that they excel at from swedish meatballs to brisket to cookies to pie to soup to corn pudding. My best friends love to cook. When I make on of their recipes, I miss them desperately, but I love doing it because I feel that they are right there with me. It is very important to me to say 'this is Jord's polenta recipe' or 'Uncle Mark's chex mix' because it means that this other person is part of that experience.
In almost every house that I've lived in, the most used entrance to the house was through a door directly into the kitchen. A door directly into the heart of the home. I guess ultimately, this is what I miss the most. I miss walking in to my family's homes, straight into their kitchens- into the heart- finding something to eat, and settling in for some real time together.