I see Mom standing at the kitchen sink, up nearly to her elbows in soapy water so hot her hands emerged pink red from their chore. Washing and rinsing dishes. Or, if the water was clear and icy cold, perhaps she was plunging just-blanched green beans into the deep, halting the cooking process so she could freeze the vegetables at their optimal state of al dente. Or maybe she was scouring the pans from under the electric stove burners, accosting them with baking soda or Comet, to remove the baked-on starch from the potatoes she boiled over before last night’s supper.
Whatever the task, Mom stood at that stainless steel sink, shifting occasionally from left foot to right, balancing out the strain on her back and hips and knees. She wore sensible shoes lined with insoles to cushion her always-achy feet and protect her corns and bunions from painful bumps against a chair leg or corner of the cabinet. Now and then she would raise forearm to forehead, pushing a dark curl and a bead of sweat away from her eyes, then nudging her glasses back up her short nose. She’d stick out her lower lip to blow a quick, cool breath up into her own face, small relief from the heat of the farmhouse kitchen.
That’s the scene I recall above the island countertop. And it’s what I saw if I perched on the kitchen stool or sat across the room at the kitchen table.
But to me, the more delightful view was from the opposite side of the island, down low.
Like most kitchens, our sink had two doors underneath, where Mom stored the dish soap, rubber gloves, steel wool and cleaning supplies. Normally, the back side of that cabinet would be a solid wall. Not ours. To Mom’s dismay, Daddy “upgraded” her plywood sink cabinet just for toddler me – cutting a square hole in the opposite side of the island and installing in its place a sliding door. This opening, which started just a few inches above the floor, did serve a useful function; it gave easy access to an otherwise hard-to-reach and possibly under-utilized part of the cupboard. We used it to store Tupperware and other non-breakable containers.
More significantly, that door was my personal portal, where I could see and entertain my mommy.
While she was doing dishes, I would push open my sliding door and call into the cupboard, “Peek-a-boo, Mommy!” Sometimes I had to say it three or four times. Eventually, she would take a deep breath, pull her hands dripping from the sink and bend over to open the door on her side of the cabinet. Her hair would appear first, then forehead, then eyes. “Peek-a-boo, Honey,” she’d sigh. She didn’t seem as happy about the game as I was. And I could only get her to play once or maybe twice. Then she would give me a job to do (match socks, stir lemonade, lick a beater, go outside and pet a cat). I felt sorry that she didn’t have more time to play. I was sure she loved peeking as much as I did. Who wouldn’t?
* * *
In retrospect, and now as a busy mother myself, I understand how exasperated Mom must have been when Daddy installed that sliding door. His playful, creative design element meant frequent interruptions in her work and in her train of thought. My own kitchen sink backs up to an exterior wall. Sometimes I stand there washing dishes, and I smile because no one in their right mind would cut a hole in the opposite site of that cupboard. So I can labor in peace (until Emma appears at my hip to share a drawing and a dozen questions).