Have you ever been at a party but in another room than all the people and just listened to the soft cadence of voices and laughter ringing like little bells of warm happiness? I find myself in the kitchen a lot at such occasions, listening contentedly. It is something innate in me, wanting to care for others, to feed them. My mother is the same way. All bustle to get everything in order for a family get-together and she spends most of her time in the kitchen or refilling beverages and making sure no one is without. Not necessarily a part of the party, but an intergral catalyst. I remember her humming to herself in the kitchen, happier than she was in most places, and I think about how happy I am in the kitchen. It is funny to be separate from something but a part of it.
I think about last year when my uncle passed and all I wanted to do was cook for other people. I had so many feelings and emotions pent up inside of me in restless waves and all I wanted to do was convey every feeling through my hands to nourish loved ones still alive and well around me. I went over to my friend’s house a mess, half wild with grief, and nothing could have made me happier than hearing their conversations steadily flow like elixers to the ear over the soft popping and cracking of oil in the pan; other voices in other rooms keeping me together.
I remember as a child gravitating toward the kitchen with my mother at get-togethers. I was dirtied cup and plate collector extraordinaire, and although we had a dishwasher I would insist on doing hand-dishes while my mother hovered and hummed over hors d’oeuvres. I would pull up a wooden stool, roll my sleeves with tenacity, and set to the task of cleaning things. Warm water and soapy suds would cover the counter in the wake of my childish intensity at the task. Even then I remember being warmed by the voices permeating the kitchen walls and feeling a part/apart of the party. I was happier there than as a participant.
I think about my Nana passing a year and a half ago and me and my sisters gravitating to the kitchen adjoing the funeral parlor where my Nana reposed at her open viewing. We arranged the finger foods, perched like birds on ledges of the counters, separated from the friends and family consoling and reminiscing. It felt right there in that kitchen, getting food ready for people spent with emotion. It was a comfort to hear their voices and laughter as they told tales. But we were not a part of that. We couldn’t be a part of that. She was not those memories to me, to us. She terrified me. This made me grieve more than with people I love. I didn’t really know her or who she was. But feeding the people who loved her made it sit better with me somehow; made me feel that I was taking care of her loved ones for her in her place now that she was gone.
And when I find myself in a melancholy mood or lonely or with the mean reds, I cook. I cook with reckless abandon, let my heart do the cooking and my hands do the work. And it makes me feel connected, a part of something bigger than myself, to create something that will sustain me and the people I care about while listening to the music of other voices, in other rooms.