It was, without question, a meal that will go down in the kids’ memory as what constitutes “Mom’s cooking.” They, and their father, were ecstatic, which was the point after all.

But today I’m asking myself why I made such a fuss over a meal, standing over the stove for hours when I could have popped it in the oven and spent the saved time playing with the baby.

I don’t know what comes over me. I have a profession for heaven’s sake. Yet the minute I have a bit of time off, I slip into a domestic mode and scurry off to the kitchen. Here it is the second week of summer break already, and I’ve been in the kitchen the whole time. Donnie, who does KP when I’m working, disappears on his tractor the minute I’m home. That’s OK with me because what he does in the kitchen doesn’t suit me anyway. So it’s not that I’m just filling up time. A winter’s worth of mess needs to be cleaned up in there.

Still, I have other things to do, a full agenda for my summer that doesn’t include frying chicken or baking bread. (Bread will be next.) Donnie and I are members of MOFGA (the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers’ Alliance) and I’ve volunteered to write a process manual for the Common Ground Fair they sponsor every year. This will take a while. I’m also in the process of publishing my first book, a lot more work than I had imagined. Plus, I have set a summer’s writing goal of a poem a day, in addition to the other writing I’ll be doing. None of these things feel like heavy duty obligations, but rather great experiences that I really enjoy doing. I’ve scheduled them for summer deliberately because I have a large block of free time.

Those are my writing projects, but by no means all the projects I have planned.

Fabrics already chosen

I have bought fabric for a quilt for Sabien – wonderful African fabric with elephants, lions, monkeys and giraffes, all in bright African colors. I also have fabric for quilts for Vanessa and Eddie. There’s a grocery bag full of sock yarn, enough for everyone on my Christmas list and half the population of West Paris. I could go on, but it’s beginning to seem ridiculous, even to me. The point is, I will never get any of these fun things done if I don’t stay out of the kitchen.

I suspect that the problem is the way I was raised. The majority of my childhood memories come wrapped in a package that contains food of some kind. All the holidays, certainly, but other times as well.

Summer especially, because summer meant picnics, and what did we always have at picnics? Fried chicken, of course. One of the family stories I’ve heard told over and over is about how Granddad used to go out to the henhouse on Sunday mornings and wring the necks of a couple chickens for Sunday breakfast. I can’t imagine frying chicken for breakfast, but obviously that’s what they did in the “good old days.”

Cooking was important in our family, and the women were all supposed to be great at it. I learned that lesson early. In those years my mother worked, so, as the oldest girl, I was expected to take over Mama’s job in the kitchen. My grandparents lived next door, and I remember taking dead chicken carcasses over to my grandmother for help with cutting up the dang things, a job I thought I’d never learn.

She’d say, “Now, Net, I thought I showed you this already.”

Exceeding expectations

True to the expectations placed on me, I became a good cook. It never ceases to amaze me that they never expected anything else from me. No one noticed my writing ability even though I wrote in little diaries constantly and made up stories I badgered people to read. In my family, domestication was the prime objective for women. It is a lesson so embedded in my psyche that I just can’t seem to get beyond it.

Whatever the reasons for hanging out in the kitchen, however, the plain truth is, when I am cooking, my family is happy. Donnie, especially, is happy. And when you get right down to my core, there is nothing – not writing or making quilts or knitting – that motivates me more than doing something that brings joy to the people I love. So when I puzzle about why I migrate to the kitchen, deep down I know the answer.

Somehow being in the kitchen connects me to my family, and there is no where else I want to be.

Jeanette Baldridge is a writer and teacher who lives in West Paris, who is a regular contributor to this column. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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