I never think that making dinner is going to be a frenzy. I enjoy cooking, and if I think seriously about, I feel blessed to be able to nourish my family in this way, to love them with food from my hands. I can even get all crazy-spiritual about it, finding myself caught up in the meditative rhythm of chopping vegetables, getting pulled into the deep metaphors of simmering pots and rising bread.
But the drama of kitchen theater in my head looks remarkably different than the sit-com that most often unfolds in my house. On this particular evening, with the familiar comfort of practiced dishes, I keep pace around my kitchen domain without referencing notes or double checking measurements. Even still, the frenzy was building. The Littlest was fully determined to crawl straight for the dog bowl, and having picked him up and turned him around no less than ten times already, I surrendered to carrying him on my hip, scooping out teaspoons of cumin with the one-handed adeptness of the seasoned mother that I am. I thought that I told the bigger kids to stop jumping on the couch, but who can be sure anymore? There they are, and it’s only moments until it gets out of hand. But even still, dinner goes on.
There I was, dinner madness in full swing around me, making the usual mad dash between the stove and the sink, the worn tile betraying the path between refrigerator and table top. I poured the cornbread batter into the skillet, opened up the oven to bake, staring down the last fifteen minutes before we sit down for dinner. To my surprise, and more importantly, the utter standstill of dinner, the oven was cold. I touched the rack. Stone cold. I shut the oven door, turning away from what I knew was now undeniable: our oven had baked her last bread.
Lest I be accused of being overly sentimental about a kitchen appliance, let me tell you about our oven. Built in 1968, it is older by far than any of the people in this house. Avocado green, it was just the accent that our kitchen needed, and I’ve learned it’s quirks the way I know those of good friends. It was big — wider than any traditional range nowadays, it’s heft anchoring our kitchen to days past. I envision Helen, the matriarch of this house before my time, doing just as I have, stirring pots and holding babies, pulling her family together, meal after meal.
Browsing the aisles, then, today of the big box home improvement center I realized that there is little offered in terms of character. Maybe today’s stainless is the avocado of yesteryear, but I doubt it. I opened oven doors, peering into sparkly interiors. I turned knobs; I pushed buttons. We pretended like we knew what we’re doing, and chose a model that seemed just as good as the rest. Later, Mark heaved our old oven out, and shuffled the new one in.
Of course, there is much to be grateful for: the new efficiency of this oven will no doubt ease our electric bill. I won’t have that same hesitation of turning on the oven in the summer, knowing that this oven will keep much of it’s heat to itself. It was not even 48 hours that I was without an oven, and though it gave me that feeling in my belly to have to spend such money, I’m thankful that it is only a small stress.
I spent some of the afternoon pacing our kitchen, and sighing. Our kitchen, though the heart of our house in many ways, has been neglected from our full vision, mostly because it is such a costly room to upgrade. Our old oven, with it’s heft and character, pulled our piecemeal kitchen together. This new oven opens my eyes to what an old and weird kitchen we have. The oven’s vintage style gave authenticity and grace, and without that what we have is just plain old. I paced the kitchen, thinking if I could just get a different view, it would feel different.
Here’s what I know now: our oven did anchor our kitchen in so many ways, but (get a grip, Campbell) it is just an oven. Our kitchen is weird and awkward and dated, and now I’m seeing it for what is is: a reflection of who we are, and a place at the heart of our home where we serve up love alongside our dinner. I want to have you at my table, serve you some cornbread, and offer up to you the weird ways that God is making me whole. I want to tell you to about this awkward and piecemeal life – unpolished and unfinished. This kitchen is a work in progress – and so am I.
The more I make myself at home with this new oven, the more I’ll see the next vision for this kitchen. We’ll figure out how to fill the awkward gap between the new oven and the adjacent cabinet. Maybe we’ll finally choose a color for our kitchen cabinets, and paint new life into them. Someday, when our refrigerator dies (because it will, one of these days) we’ll find something that matches this new oven, tying things together a bit more. I know this: there will always be fresh, hot food and I will always want you at my table, to share your story and to hear mine.