The Lost Kitchen
Nothing’s cooking amid
By Jim Dodson
During an ordinary year — is there really such a thing anymore? — a complete kitchen renovation can be an invitation to a slow form of madness. The dust and debris of the demo stage, one hears repeatedly from those who’ve undertaken the process, is often followed by costly surprises, unexpected discoveries and interminable delays that tax patience and pocketbook to the breaking point.
Try doing it in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and you may gain a whole new appreciation for the simple things of life.
When our expensive German-built dishwasher broke down last March, flooding the floor beneath our custom-made cabinets for days before we realized what was happening, I suppose I thought we might be in for a few weeks of inconvenience as we waited for the insurance adjuster and his construction foreman to come assess the extent of the damage.
After a couple weeks of drying machines and dehumidifiers roaring like airplane engines in the kitchen night and day, the news turned out to be even more discouraging. Beneath the existing floor tiles were four levels of old flooring including two layers of asbestos flooring that dated from the house’s midcentury origins. Most of it needed to be removed by a special remediation team. This meant that everything in the kitchen first had to come out — the beautiful custom-made cabinetry and marble counters that wooed my wife’s heart, every appliance, bookshelf and fixture that made the updated kitchen such an appealing space.
The cabinets went to our large screened porch in back. The refrigerator migrated to the dining room, the microwave to the library and the newly purchased cooktop top and bake oven wound up in the living room foyer. The kitchen’s pub table wound up in the den and a new dishwasher sat where it was delivered to the carport. The room was stripped down to the wiring — much of which turned out to be pre-code era and had to be redone once the asbestos team finished its work.
Only the subflooring was left, with several rotted-through spots and gaps that revealed the earth below the room.
Suddenly everything was where something else used to be, including my glasses, wallet and car keys, which were — I swear! — never where I was sure I left them last.
Living on our porch was kind of a kick for a few weeks — at least while it was still springtime and relatively cool. We joked that we were camping out in our own home. Cocktails on the lawn became a thing, even after the heat of summer descended like an unwelcome relative. For a while it was fun to do take-out supper from restaurants we’d never tried before coronavirus and domestic chaos entered our lives. We even broke down and bought a fancy new gas grill in order to actually have the sensation of cooking real food again. Up till then, making coffee in the morning was about as close as we got to cooking anything.
As we waited — and waited — for the crew to return and repair the subfloor, we picked out new Old World tile flooring and even decided to use this out-of-body, in-between time to give our master bedroom a facelift with new paint and Roman shades. Our sympathetic friends who’d been down this winding road ahead of us suggested that we make a small wagering pool about when our kitchen (and lives) would be fully operational again.
I predicted that we would be back in business by Independence Day. My wife, a serious cook of the first rank, guessed her own birthday, July 14. Our friend Terry suggested August 1; her husband Patrick laughed evilly and assured us it wouldn’t happen until after Labor Day.
I laughed at him, silly me.
As I write these words with the Labor Day rolling into view, our kitchen floor still sits as bare as a baby’s bum. The repair crew apologetically sends word that they have been swamped all summer by similar emergency restoration projects slowed by Covid caution, every one ahead of us in the queue. They assure that they will finally report for duty this coming Friday or next Monday. Or maybe the one after that. Who can say? Will Labor Day be the appointed day after all? Or more appropriately, Halloween?
A lost kitchen, I’d discovered, makes you stop and reflect on the functionality of your home and the small things you take for granted in the daily routines of life. As a kid, my mom’s spotless kitchen was where I ate 10 million boxes of Corn Flakes or Cheerios and wrote away for indispensable stuff from the backs of the cereal boxes, eavesdropped on grown-up conversations and learned to make my mama’s world famous cream chipped beef on toast before I wandered off to college. As a grown-up, it’s where I had hundreds of unforgettable conversations with my own children about everything under the sun before they wandered off into the world. Not unimportantly, the kitchen is where I’ve always hung my car keys by the door so some idiot — i.e. me — can’t remember where he left them last.
Not surprisingly, studies show that kitchens are the most popular and versatile rooms in most homes, especially so during this period of remote work and living. It’s the place where supper is cooked, homework is done and almost everyone gravitates with a glass of vino in hand during the party.
“Happiness,” wrote Alfred Hitchcock in his memoirs, “is a small house with a large kitchen.” Even the acknowledged Master of Fright appreciated the value of a great kitchen, deadly sharp knives notwithstanding.
For this reason, I’m keeping the faith that the restoration of our lost kitchen will indeed begin in coming days, and that our old kitchen with its new flooring and updated appliances will be worth the wait.
As cooler autumn mornings arrive, what a pleasure it will be to switch on our fancy new gas cooktop and stir up my mama’s world famous cream chipped beef on toast before I wander off to work, forgetting our long hot summer of a lost kitchen. h
Jim Dodson is the editor of Seasons and its sister publications, O.Henry and PineStraw.