Friday, 4 March 2016

The Woman in the Kitchen - Katherine Langrish

This is going to be a short post but a heartfelt one. It's Mothering Sunday this weekend, and here is a drawing I made for my junior school teacher a very long time ago. We'd been asked to draw a picture of our kitchens. I can't remember if a portrait of one's mother was also required, but she was there (of course) and so I included her.  I was ten, and very proud of the likeness, although I remember her saying to me, 'Hmm. Do you think I really look like that?'

Anyone who grew up in the 1960s and 70's will recognise this kitchen.  There's the speckled red lino on the floor, with the rubbery seal stuck down over the join. There are the wooden, painted cupboards, the wire rack over the oven, the aluminium pans, the wall-hooks from which to hang sieves and scissors and fish-slices, above all the state-of-the-art glass disc in the window, with cords you pulled to line up the ventilation holes. There's my mother's curled hair (she used rollers), the fact that she's wearing a dress, her heeled court shoes.

Truth to tell, perhaps this isn't such a good likeness of my mother, who was slim and attractive... but it's a pretty good record of our kitchen. If you opened the back door to the right, six stone steps would lead you down into a slanting asphalt yard and the back gate.  If you rubbed the steam from the kitchen window, you could look right over the valley to the moors on the other side of Wharfedale.

As I write this, my mother is 91 and has been in hospital for weeks, having fallen and broken her hip. She isn't very well. What you can't see in this drawing I made - but perhaps it's implicit - is the love in that room. It was a happy, happy home, and she made it so.  No amount of trouble I go to now can be too much to repay her for what she gave us.

Last autumn around the time of my birthday, my sister and I were poking around in one of those fascinating antiques arcades where you can find anything and everything from Lalique glass so expensive it isn't even priced (if you have to ask, you can't afford it) to chipped jugs and odd sherry glasses at 50 pence apiece. My sister had asked me to choose a birthday present.  I looked at this and that, and then I found this anonymous watercolour.

I had to have it.  This is my ten-year old picture, grown-up and made better. This is or might as well be, my mother in one or any of the places we lived during my childhood.  All that's wanting is some sign of the menagerie of cats, dogs, ducks, white mice etc, which went with us everywhere.

There is and was a lot more to my mother than housework (which she didn't much like). She sang in a wonderful, trained contralto voice, she wrote poetry, created wonderful gardens, had and has wit, spirit, a sense of humour and the most beautiful smile.  She was practical, too. I remember her with a blowtorch and a scraper, stripping brown varnish off the bannisters.  Once she rehung a sash window. But the housework was always there, part of life, part of every home. These old-fashioned kitchens are part of my memories. There she is, the woman in the kitchen, washing the dishes, peeling the potatoes.

I want her to come home. 


Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely piece, for Mothering Sunday or any time. There she is for us, just as she was.

Joanna said...

So beautifully written. Thank you for this poignant piece and for showing us the beautiful drawing and watercolour too. They bring back so many memories of childhood and motherhood. My mother is almost ninety and everything you write here resonates with me.

Lindsay said...

A lovely piece. The kitchen drawings are both beautiful and evoke days gone by perfectly with their detail. My mother's favourite Mothering Sunday card was one I gave her that depicted a woman doing a mountain of washing up (in a similar kitchen) with the caption 'Happy Mother's Day.' She kept it pinned up in her kitchen for years!

Vanessa Harbour said...

Oh this is such a beautiful piece. I hope she comes home to you very soon. It brought back many memories for me too. My mother is no longer with me and I miss her very much. Sending you both hugs and strength. Thank you for writing it. Take care xx

Amanda Craig said...

Beautiful piece Kath, and what a good drawing too. I recognise a lot from my own childhood. All those mothers cooking and washing up with their backs turned, looking after us! Largely unheralded by literature or art.

Joan Lennon said...

Love to your mum, and you.

michelle lovric said...

thank you, Kath. This is absolutely beautiful.

Penny Dolan said...

So poignant - a lovely post. Good wishes to you and to your mother for this coming Sunday, Kath.

Patricia Cruzan said...

The story reminds me of my mother. She worked in the kitchen much of her life. She died at age sixty. My sister and I have already outlived the age at which she died. She was a great cook.

Tortie said...

Wonderful. Our kitchen was similar - light green formica on the work surfaces, dark green lino on the floor and a Roberts radio set to Radio 4. My mum is also a mum in a million. She gave up a lot to have us, but never complained about all the cooking and cleaning. I hope your mum recovers and comes home soon.

Hana Khan said...

Prayers to you and your mum, may she get better soon.

Mary Hoffman said...

It's a lovely post, Katherine. As you know, I lost both parents when I was 29 and it amazes me to hear of people with grown-up children who still have their mothers living. Mine never knew her grandchildren, which has been a perpetual sadness to me. Of course I never had to deal with the failing health of parents in their 90s, 80s or even 70s, never had to make agonising decisions about care. But I hope I would have been able to do it with a fraction of the grace you have shown in caring for your mother of which this post is just one example.

Lydia Syson said...

Do hope she is back with you soon and you've had a good day together today.

Tracey said...

Such a beautiful blog post that moved me to tears. I do hope your mother recovers very soon so that she can come home

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