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.