It’s extremely loud and dangerously messy, highly disruptive, and grows more expensive every day. You guessed right: it’s a kitchen remodeling project!
Our kitchen was bright and welcoming when we moved to this house nearly twenty-three years ago. Since then, I estimate that I have cooked and served more than 8,300 dinners to family and friends, both the quotidian weekday lasagna as well as multi-course meals for Shabbat and holidays. But as the kitchen aged, I grew impatient with the drawers that usually got stuck on their rails, the oven that considered a 350-degree setting as a suggestion, the recycling pull-out that defiantly rolled open after a firm slam shut, and the cracks in the tile countertops and floor spreading like tributaries. Yet for all that, I felt a sense of loss and even a tremor of disloyalty as I watched those first hammer blows.
Our kids grew up in this home. They ate most of their meals at the kitchen table, joking or bickering, slipping the dog hamburger on the sly and skittering away after dinner, forgetting to clear their plates. The kitchen corkboard featured the kids’ pictures, art projects, invitations, and school flyers.
I had a home office for writing but in the late afternoons, the kitchen was my central command center. It was where I listened, talked to my kids and husband, and dispensed advice as I stirred the minestrone or basted the chicken. It’s where my daughter at age nine, learning to bake, poured an entire cup of instant coffee into a cake batter when the recipe called for one cup of coffee and I laughed so hard that I could not stop and all she could do was beg me not to put it in a column. Honey, I’ve waited long enough.
The kitchen was the room where I gave the most hugs — many of joy and pride, others of fiercely protective, maternal emotional support.
The kitchen was where I heard the hot news of the day, whether the thrill of earning an “A” on a test or the pain of a friend making a thoughtless, cruel remark. As the kids grew into adults, it’s where we talked about their dating experiences and I was discovered as a source of wisdom on these matters. The kitchen was the room where I gave the most hugs — many of joy and pride, others of fiercely protective, maternal emotional support. It’s the room that launched nearly one hundred birthday cakes, baked with love, frosted unevenly, and topped with tiny and colorful lit birthday candles.
Today so much of our society feels fragile, anxious, and insecure. Still, most people recognize the kitchen as a physical space with a spiritual core. Popular home décor and aprons proclaim, “A kitchen is the heart of the home,” and “This kitchen is seasoned with love.” Even slightly subversive mottos such as “If I had to stir it, it’s homemade,” and “The kitchen was clean last week. Sorry you missed it,” underscore the kitchen as a focal point for both physical and emotional nourishment, the place where so many of life’s memorable moments happen, and where the primary cook in the family may sling the hash more out of devotion to family than for the creative rewards of cooking.
Each day I What’sApp our kids pictures of the remodel project, including its unexpected revelations: the back wall had begun to crumble, three layers of previous flooring that had never been removed, and missing support beams above the ceiling in the area where I stood most frequently, chopping and mixing. “You’re lucky that ceiling didn’t fall down,” the contractor said. “So many memories,” one son observed, seeing the kitchen stripped to its bones.
Realizing my old kitchen’s hidden structural weaknesses, it’s easier for me to let go of my emotional attachment to the room that was and allow myself the excitement of the beautiful, new kitchen to come, with a bright new color scheme and an army of gleaming new appliances soon reporting for duty. Still, I will always feel grateful to our old kitchen, the place that for so many years and perhaps more than any other room in the house, felt like home.
Judy Gruen’s latest book is “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith.”