Thursday, September 28, 2017
come on in my kitchen
Make do. Get by. Take what you get, and be still. Words my grandmother spoke over coffee in her kitchen in Northern Minnesota. Or, other words my sisters and I heard in the kitchen, hiding under the table while my mother and her friends coffee-klatched and smoked, in the late afternoon, before the husbands came home. Cigarette smoke mingled with the scent of ironed, white business shirts wafting in from the warm, afternoon living room, where the ironing board was not yet put away. Lulled by the sound of women's voices, telling the truth to each other, we listened and waited quietly, so they wouldn't shoo us out.
When they stood up to go home, we sneaked out and sipped the dregs of sweetened and creamed
coffee left behind in some of the cups, and developed a taste for coffee in the afternoon, and women's conversation.
I have been weaving kitchen cloths these days. "You better come on in my kitchen, cause it's going to be rainin' outdoors," the old Robert Johnson country-blues song runs around my brain. I'm weaving the Swedish drall pattern, that keeps reminding me of some past I never had, and now the little offset, ghosting white cross, floating in a plot of gray plainweave linen. I'm glad to see it back again. The elements in my weaving come and go, reappear, reacquaint, recombine. Somehow, piece by piece, a fuller picture emerges. I'm always here waiting to see what comes up.
I have an old cast iron flat iron, actually, a set of 2 of them, that have been an essential part of my studio for years. I use them to hold fabric down when I cut a dress pattern, or to hold a scarf while I tie its fringe, or an extra hand to hold paper, until I can cut a piece of tape to wrap a package. I have heard them called "sad" irons, too. I use them for many things, and together with an old piece of soapstone (an antique bedwarmer), I have the equivalent of a small cold mangle. Cold mangling is an old Scandinavian technique of smoothing linen, heatlessly, to burnish a sheen on linen fiber, and smooth the fabric. Flax can shine. It has grown in a short season, northern clime, and gathered long days of sun into its cells, which grow long in the midnight sun. When it is harvested, retted, hackled, spun, and woven, and then cold mangled, the luminous fiber emerges. The midnight sun has been gathered and held in the long fiber, the long staple, and then in the cloth.
My own kitchen has a life of its own. Right now it's abundant with tomatoes, and a sack of just ripe pears from Anne-Marie's tree. On the counter is a big bunch of fragrant basil that Mary Lee brought yesterday, and eggplants and butternut squash from the Amish road stand. Pots and pans, bottles of olive and sunflower oil. A cupboard full of spices, nuts, and a half-full bag of chocolate chips. Zip-loc bags, aluminum foil, baking parchment. Good knives. My food processor, and my Farberware 4-cup superfast coffee percolator!
For me, the kitchen has always been a place of comfort and certainty, where women hold the room, where I would often find my mother. A refuge in any storm. Making these homely kitchen cloths, with their subtle gleam, soft hand, and mysterious past, is a balance point, a centering place, peaceful, like a kitchen.