Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lincoln BeautyWare

Breadbox and canisters – the language of another era of kitchen design.

For four years a movers box containing items from my parents’ New Orleans kitchen stood in my New England basement. Nostalgia rather than utility had motivated me to ask for these remnants of my home growing up. Kitchen renovations here two years back made the fate of these items nebulous.

The past two weeks I have had the task of outfitting a small room as a kitchen – or a kitchenette in older parlance. Guess what finally escaped basement shadows for a new life?

There are four canisters and a breadbox in the chrome Lincoln BeautyWare set that used to sit on my mother’s kitchen counter. I will follow her example and ignore the labels affixed to some of the canisters. There will probably not be coffee in the canister labeled “Coffee”; foodies’ habit suggests a refrigerator or freezer for beans or even ground coffee. Nor could anyone in good conscience these days use enough sugar in a year to warrant the tall canister labeled for “Sugar.”

Rather than prominently displayed in a symmetrical row on a kitchen counter the way they had been in my mother’s day, the canisters now line a shelf behind the doors of a wooden cabinet.

On the other hand, the breadbox has too many ready functions to be hidden in that way. Perched on a butcher block counter against one wall, the breadbox will, I am sure, be opened and closed frequently each day. A simple turn on a black knob releases a door on the front of the breadbox. Imbedded in the back of that chrome door is a wooden cutting board that lies flat when the door is open. One of my brothers reminded me of that feature just this past Sunday, on what would have been my father’s 98th birthday.

It struck me this weekend that my father had died within sight of this breadbox. His body as he fell to the kitchen floor after emptying the dishwasher that November morning may have been reflected one last time in the well polished chrome of the familiar door.

In the years after my father’s death my brothers and I would take turns visiting my mother, usually a week at a time. I used to sit at the kitchen table in the evening after my mother had gone to bed. Not five feet from this same breadbox, I would write or read alone, sometimes a novel, sometimes from a book of prayers. Far from my New England home, I would wonder about what I had learned and what I had not learned from my years growing up in this household years earlier.

I still wonder.

Imagine if I had actually heard my father asking my mother one day what she liked particularly about this Lincoln BeautyWare set. If I had heard him asking what it did for her to buy something this fashionable for her kitchen, how it made her feel. If I had heard them discuss together whether there were other ways she wanted a kitchen in her home to look and feel.

I wonder how I would feel today if I had actually heard my father ask her if she knew how happy it made him feel to see her happy.

Last night I turned on the lights in a mahogany case with my parents’ wedding china. I sat in a favorite chair nearby, and by the light from the china cabinet read through the messages that had emerged from my prayer last December. I have recorded them here before. One message in particular stirred me afresh last night:

I have done this much for you. Trust.

God has done this much for me in my life. I keep trusting.

Images of Lincoln BeautyWare from PeacockModern


Kimberly said...


I am led to thinking about Leonardo Boff and his book The Sacraments of Living. In it he speaks of the human capacity to interpret sign and symbol and how in the appropriation of the particular, the particular becomes sacramental--able to mediate a transcendent truth.

Your words, friend, are sacrament. They follow the contours of the experiences, thoughts, and objects within and around you, illuminating the veins of truth that give them life and therefore meaning.

Thank you for the invitation inside.

John said...

I appreciate the status you ascribe my words. Doesn't every writer hope the words on the page do something that creates life and uncovers meaning? The sacrament is embedded in the contours of
our living, you're right. Coming into contact with it sends a writer into creative frenzy and zeal. I think that happens with you from time to time?

Ur-spo said...

that was lovely reading.
I have a similar breadbox - metal on the outside with a built-in wooden board on the inside of the door. I hold onto it as it makes me think of my grandmother.

Beartoast said...

And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

Matthew 13.52

John said...

There are probably times in our lives when there is an especial need to recall the people before us. Having the things of their households fitting into ours is a comfort.