Over the past several months, my folks have undertaken a massive home renovation project. We plan on taking our small undersized kitchen and expanding it into a culinary workshop that would make Gordan Ramsey sit up and beg. ‘How?’ you may ask?
Mostly, it seems by totally rearranging the whole damn house into a lifesize Escher painting. Currently, I have little to no knowledge of the location of cereal, forks, television remotes, the Lazyboy, salsa, chips, pots, soap dispenser, can opener, or the front door. All are lost or currently buried beneath bins, boxes and furniture.
You see for years, our current kitchen has abutted next to the ‘good’ or unused dining room. Nearly every home has one, a well-polished table adorned with silver candlesticks and untouched silverware, relics which mothers maintain in mint quality as if the queen might stop by one day unannounced for tea. Our own dining room was an ersatz museum collection of fine china, dark ebony tables, Polish tea cups, Belleek vases, and grinning Hummel figurines. Needless to say, if the queen did stop by for a cup of Earl Grey, digestion would prove difficult with hundreds of small frozen children exchanging blood-red posies, laughing maniacally in their small ceramic wheelbarrows from dust-caked bookcases. Teaching before a room of bleary-eyed kids and . . . well, it’s no wonder I’m so anxious. Anyway, we rarely ate or drank anything in this dining room, even just to spite Mom, who despite our professed phobias screamed bloody murder at any sign of drink or beverage on her ‘nice wood floors.’
Anyway, back to the kitchen . . . over the last year, it was finally realized that our small dinky kitchen could no longer support a family still growing with boyfriends, girlfriends, and grandchildren. Heck, with a counter-space that doubled as a mailroom and catch-all to a dozen people, the dwindling space made it difficult for two cooks to prepare food. In a family of twelve, we work as a team; each member was typically given a job: peel potatoes, steam vegetables, carve turkey, and so on. Over the last several years though, Mom has burdened all these chores herself, as any attempt to assist was paramount to climbing into a clown car.
And as much as I would like to admit that money was the prime reason for the delay, my mother made decisions on home design with the same rapidity of a yogi seeking the meaning of life. Dad on the other hand wants the project done yesterday, and often tries to usurp the laws of space, time and logic to see it through. Thus, it’s been . . . interesting planning this project with them.
Well, five (or ten perhaps) years after the ‘kitchen epiphany,’ we are finally razing the old kitchen to the ground and starting anew. In late April, Dad and my sibs spent nights and weekends tearing up the old floor, quickly tossing bits of tile and shards of plywood in heaps on the front lawn. This stage was the most straight forward as destruction projects tend to be, but left most of the house buried in excess furniture. Navigation proved terrible, and to date, we still have not found Ryan.
In late May — Ryan’s location still unknown — the new wood floors had arrived: ancient weather-stained barks which I imagined we had transplanted from an Amish farmhouse or perhaps born from the original Mayflower. Once finished I did not know whether I should breathe a sigh or throw down straw and try and milk something.
Two weeks ago, some men arrived at the house to stain the floors . . . well, my brothers would say ‘brown’ but the correct answer is ‘chestnut.’ I will never argue with a woman about color; it’s impossible and I always lose. The staining however not only filled the house with toxic fumes, but also closed off the kitchen, the nexus of the house, for several days. The painters transformed one house into three different apartments: the upstairs, the living room and the basement. No one living or sitting in one area could travel to another without walking outside and coming in through one of the outside doors, like trying to invade North America from Europe without traversing Iceland (I play a lot of Risk in my spare time). To make matters worse, storms pelted Maryland nearly every day that week. Thus, apart from the simple (and necessary) act of breathing, we had little incentive to go outside.
The last few weeks, we’ve been hanging cabinets. Much of the cabinetry is carved from tiger-maple, giving the kitchen a wild untamed appearance, an apt choice given the difficulty we’ve had hanging the bloody things. Seriously, we’ve dug more holes into the walls while setting and — after my mother’s criticisms — resetting the hippo-sized blocks that I’m thankful she’s distracted by the countertops this week. An closer inspection might raise the alarm that we have termites or woodpeckers living in the walls.
Tomorrow Mom has asked me to travel three hours north of Philly to look at soapstone, which I’m told ‘makes the best countertops in the world.’
“It can defrost a large steak in half-an-hour, Murph,” my sister explains. “You just sit it on the counter and in less than an hour, it’s ready to cook.”
To travel three hours to simply visit a showroom, it had better cook the steak and serve with mashed potatoes, but if it speeds up the process to de-clutter the house, I’ll help in anyway I can. Maybe by the end of the month, I’ll find my bed again . . . Heaven’s knows where they stashed that.