Posted by: Maryann McCullough | May 31, 2014

Story for June 2014

 

 THE SHANAHAN kITCHEN

As the soul is to the body, so was the kitchen to our home at 705 Franklin.
Interestingly it was not where we ate. We ate our family meals at a long captain’s table in the dining room. This was not an attempt at formality, but a question of space. We were a large family and the kitchen was small.

It was definitely mission control. My mother, who turned delegating into a fine art, managed her world from one of three chairs at a small round table in the center of the kitchen. On that table, in front of her there was always a coffee cup. There was always an ashtray. The coffee cup was fascinating. Her coffee was taken with cream and since a busy house provided many interruptions, looking at the cup from above was like standing over as fresh cut tree trunk whose rings gave some hint of its history. The ashtray was utilitarian and usually full. If classified as food groups, cigarettes and coffee would be at the base of our mother’s food pyramid.

My mother was a good cook and from her I learned the importance of having three different color tMhings on the dinner plate. I never did learn how to cook from her which was too bad because she knew her way around a kitchen. Back in the day, her spaghetti sauce took two days and her turkey stuffing took three. Potatoes were a staple and were mashed with a stick of butter for flavor. Once cake mixes came on the scene, there was a fresh cake baked every day. Bacon and eggs started the day and if there are heart problems in her children today, we will nonetheless all agree that those meals were prepared by a loving mother.

My favorite kitchen memory involves cups of cocoa. In Lent I would go to early morning Mass at Saint Luke’s. The mornings were dark and cold and when I arrived home there would be a cup of hot cocoa made with milk and topped with a marshmallow waiting for me along with some private conversation before the rest of the family made an appearance. The conversations were the best part of the kitchen. Sometimes tears were a part of the conversation. Sometimes laughter. But they always seemed to happen in the kitchen.

It is also where laundry was folded and babies were fed. Generally the newest Shanahan was on the countertop with a bottle propped in his mouth. I‘m sure I would remember if one of the babies rolled off the counter so I guess none did.

There were the usual appliances, though I think they worked harder than those in other homes. Groceries were delivered and in such frequency and quantity that Liska’s (a Chicago grocer) found having a River Forest customer profitable. Cabinets were always well stocked and in some interesting bit of logic, bread and cigarettes were kept in the same large kitchen drawer.

Saturday afternoons were an event in the Shanahan kitchen. Newspapers were laid out on the counter and shoes were lined up for their weekly polish with Scuff-Kote. Q-tips invaded everyone’s ears, nails were clipped. The boys got crew cuts and the girls had their bangs trimmed. Any stray neighbor child who happened into the kitchen could get caught up in the fray and return home to a somewhat surprised mother with cleaner ears and freshly polished saddle shoes.

Like all rooms this one had a floor, walls, and a ceiling. As a normal kitchen, there were cabinets and countertops and appliances, large and small. It was a pretty typical. It just felt so special because it was where “home” happened

 

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Responses

  1. Thanks, Mom. I just got to know Grandma that much better!

  2. Always love your stories Maryann. I grew up in a country kitchen and had no electricity till I was 8 years old so the wood stove with the copper boiler was on one side, an old cupboard made from dynamite boxes and a side board against other walls and table with oil cloth and painted white chairs by the double window. In the middle of kitchen floor was a pull up door in the floor that lifted out so we could get down into the root cellar by way of rough cement stairs to get our apples, squash and potatoes stored in bushel baskets or bottles of all of the canned fruits and vegetables. With no electricity, there was no refrigerator or electric lights and as soon as it started to get dark, my Mom would light the coal oil lamps and one lamp would sit on kitchen table and another on the table in living room. There was always a rush to get our school homework done before dinner. Bath time , once a week, was in a galvanized round tub in the middle of the kitchen floor and same water was used for the 3 baths with a little extra hot water from the tea kettle to warm it up for the next one. There also was a wash stand as you came in the back door right next to the wood stove. A pail of water from the well outside sat on this wash stand along with a porcelain wash basin and soap dish. A slop pail was at one side of it for the used water and to dump your glass of water that you used to brush your teeth and to spit in as you brushed. A roller terry towel hung above the slop pail to dry your hands and face. A little food pantry was in corner behind the wash stand where store bought cans of food were stored as well as a large flour can and dried beans. Mom’s baking board was also stored in this tiny room. A ladder ran up one wall of the pantry to the attic above the kitchen which could be entered by pushing a loose door to the side. My Mom was a very good cook and cooking on a wood stove was an art as some things needed an up draft which was a hotter fire and some a down draft. She baked bread one day a week and baked pies for the weekend, layered cakes for special occasions and sheet cakes, jelly rolls and all kinds of cookies…..oatmeal cookies with date filling between them were my favorite cookies. I now have her rolling pin and the pie plate that she used for her lemon meringue and banana cream pies. I remember before I was old enough for school, she would sit me at one end of the table, out of her way, while she was baking or canning… with scraps of paper and pencil and I learned how to print and write cursive from hours in front of the antique milk can with all of the printing and writing on it. She would also put pictures there for me to try to draw and numbers and the ABC’s. I could go on and on and now you have me inspired and so I hope to write this all down for my kids and grandkids. Marilyn

  3. O Shanie, What a great story. As an only child, my memories are so different than yours: Our house was always quiet & orderly. Your’s sound like so much more fun.
    Miss all of you. Rita Stopa

  4. So many memories of our kitchen in my childhood home!! And today the kitchen is the first visiting and gathering place in my home.

  5. Heartwarming. We are brought right into your kitchen by you.


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