Sunday, January 25, 2009

Kitchens and Phones

My first stepmother died suddenly, in an accident while she was on vacation. She had gone up to Chautauqua for a week in July with her daughter and youngest son, and her daughter's year old son. My father and brother-in-law were to join them at the end of the week, but she died the first night.

I had just graduated from high school and was living in a Cincinnati suburb with my maternal grandmother, so that I could enjoy a scintillating summer working as a hotel housekeeper. (No summer jobs in my small hometown 25 miles to the north.) My grandmother and her husband had gone to his lake cottage in Kentucky for the week-end, and so I was alone when my father called early on Saturday morning to tell me what had happened. I was sitting at the kitchen table in my white maid's uniform, eating cereal and listening to the radio, when the phone rang.

I changed to jeans and called my uncle who lived nearby to ask him to take me home. That uncle was the brother of my mother who had died ten years earlier. We made the drive in complete silence. At one point he started to cry, and I wondered to myself where he had been and what he had been doing when he got the call that his sister had died. For most of the rest of the morning, I sat in the kitchen of my family house and watched and listened as a neighboring farmer made phone calls. My father and grandparents moved like shadows in the background. I had the eery sensation that I was watching a scene that had been played out ten years earlier and for some incomprehensible reason was being duplicated. Nothing made sense. There was no love lost between my stepmother and me, but only days earlier we had been at the July 4th fireworks and now, her twelve-year-old son had found her body and people who seemed to know what to do were in my kitchen.

As I said in my last entry, I was four hours from home when my son died. A friend and her son came to get me, so that she could drive me back. We got home around midnight, and there were maybe 20 people on the porch and in my house, most of them in the kitchen. They had been there for hours, all afternoon and all evening, sitting with my husband and making phone calls. It seems that kitchens are the backdrop and telephones the props for the drama of loss.

Most of the people in my house had gathered together only months earlier when Musical Friend's Husband had died so suddenly. The additions were my own pastors, my CPE supervisor, and my brother, who had driven four hours and brought Gregarious Son home. For the next several days they would not leave us by ourselves, except for a few hours very late at night.

My grandmother's kitchen was very small. My father's was long and narrow. Musical Friend's is long and wide. Mine is big and square. We should probably keep candles at the ready in our kitchens at all times, so that we can mark them as the holy places of vigil they become when the phone rings with the news that our lives are no longer what they were.


Purple said...

So very true.

Kathryn J said...

Candles are a good idea - always.

I have received news that rocked my world. I can remember vividly every detail of those moments including the angle of the light from the windows if it was daytime.

Your descriptions are vivid too.

alto artist said...

I share your feeling about phones. I still dread them a bit for this reason, and recently the pain has spread from landlines to cell--I almost want any future bad news to be delivered by old-fashioned telegram, a medium I don't have to experience on a daily basis. Thank you for expressing these observations so vividly.

Jennifer said...

Once again, your power to describe is breathtaking.

Bless you.

sunflowerkat321 said...

Since our loss, every time the phone rings unexpectedly my stomach twists. Living completely separate from family, I know any tragic news will come that way. It's one of those things that haunts you after you've lived through something like this.

Everything you write here touches me so deeply. Your online friends also share the pain of your loss.

Rev SS said...

I need to take my shoes off to read your posts! (such holy ground)

Sarah S-D said...

kitchens and phones as backdrop, yes.

candles, wise.

your posts, rich.

Sarahlynn said...

I once received a phone call. I was a newlywed at the time, and my husband had never seen me lose control. I answered the phone in the living room but somehow walked myself to my tiny, sterile, apartment kitchen to complete the call. I have no idea why I did that, except that kitchens are where one goes for situations that are unbearable, I suppose. By the time I hung up the phone I lay on the floor, half on the dining room carpet and half on the kitchen's linoleum, sobbing and snotting all over everything. My husband was completely at a loss.

Huh. And all I intended to type here was that I found your post beautiful and love the closing image. Thank you.