A Kitchen with Five Doors

Morning in Iowa.

When our parents bought a home in Northwest Davenport the kitchen quickly became the center of family activity.

The home was an American Foursquare built in 1910. It had an expansive front porch facing Marquette Street with mature maple trees on either side of the walkway. There were two tall pine trees on the south side of the house, and a silver maple next to a detached tar paper garage in back near the alley.

The entryway had leaded glass doors leading to a foyer where a staircase led upstairs to three bedrooms, a bath, and more stairs to the unfinished attic. Abundant mahogany woodwork adorned the foyer. To the right was the living room with leaded glass windows and a wide pocket door separating it from the dining room. The dining room had a bay window with leaded glass. The dining and living rooms were large enough for home entertaining which consisted of parties for us children, family gatherings, and card parties organized by Mother. On Dec. 26, 1982 there was an open house to celebrate our wedding with friends, family and neighbors.

The kitchen was small by today’s standards. Every inch of wall space had something on it. The centerpiece was a large enameled, cast iron sink with a left side drain board. The drain board also served as countertop space. There was a gas range in one corner, a space for a refrigerator, and a small table set against two windows on the north side of the room. It was a kitchen with five doors.

There was a door leading to the foyer between the range and the refrigerator. Sometimes that door was kept shut. Another door, perhaps the most used, led to the dining room. One led to a pantry that included a built in china cabinet and other shelving. There was a door to the basement, and one to a small vestibule with a closet and yet another door to the back porch. In all, the house had livable space of 1,561 square feet on 0.15 acre, a regular city lot. It seemed like more space because the basement and attic were quite usable.

Our kitchen was a place of transition in the period I lived there from Summer 1959 until leaving for university in 1970. By that I mean food came in through the doors and was processed for storage or prepared as meals. We hauled groceries up the back or front steps, depending on where the automobile was parked. We took canned goods to the basement for storage in a handmade wooden cupboard designed for the purpose in an era of home canning. In those days there was less processed and prepared food and more raw ingredients. Our kitchen was about more than food storage and preparation.

Mom’s friends stopped by unannounced and entered the kitchen through the vestibule without knocking. Model Dairy had home delivery to a milk case on the back porch and occasionally Mother spoke to the milkman. The kitchen was a bustling center of social activity we took for granted.

We most often entered and left home through the kitchen. Mother would usually be there or in the dining room. We told her where we were going and asked permission to leave the yard. There were coat hooks in the vestibule for storing everyday outerwear. In winter, when we came indoors we took off our shoes and put them by the furnace register next to the range to dry.

Countless meals were prepared in the kitchen, typically by Mother. We had a family cuisine different from other families in the neighborhood. It became a discussion topic among my friends and neighbors. I ate some meals at the small table by the windows when my brother and sister weren’t around. I didn’t spend much time cooking with Mother yet recall my friend Dan and I gathering at the range to watch her make tacos while we were in high school. I took little of Mother’s cooking technique with me when I left home. My main memories of food are her bringing serving bowls, dishes and platters full from the kitchen to the dining room table where we gathered for meals.

After Father died we began a transition to the dining room as the central gathering place. When I returned from university, or later travels, that room became the focal point. We talked for hours around the dining room table. As we aged, our relationships with each other changed in front of us. Some of those conversations were memorable.

Yet it is the kitchen with its five doors I remember most about that period. What went on there was formative and stands in stark contrast with how our lives would change. It created in me a sense of normalcy.

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