Mom’s screaming genes

In the five years or so immediately preceding my mother’s death, she engaged in an ongoing argument with my sister and me over her kitchen. The apartment she lived in had been built around the turn of the century.  Except for painting over the glass fronted cabinets because she didn’t want anyone to see all her stuff behind them, little renovation had been done in her kitchen in the intervening 100 years.

Oh sure, she’d replaced the wood burning stove.  And she put in a metal sink stand that was ugly the day she bought it.  But she still vented the kitchen through a winder over the stove operated by a rope and stick. And the top of the washing machine with a dishtowel laid across it was the closest she ever came to a breakfast nook.

Then, about five years ago, her oven died and her refrigerator took to spending a good deal of its time on its knees begging to be put out to pasture.

Judy and I tried to convince her to get her kitchen redone. She didn’t want to do it based on the theory that it was a waste of money.  We kept trying to explain to her that if she didn’t spend her money, when she died and left it to us, we would. 

Having watched us travel all over the world for twenty years, I think it finally sunk in that we meant it. So she tried to renovate her kitchen.

There was just one problem. When the store found out where she lived, they said they wouldn’t go there to do the job. They apparently had a problem with the neighborhood.

And so mom, after a lot more argument, agreed to at least buy a stove with a working oven and a new refrigerator.  She got them about six months before she died.

This story comes to mind because my sister recently sent me a package containing something called scrapple – a breakfast meat that is mysteriously unavailable in Alaska despite the fact that it can best be described as a low end Spam. After she mailed it, she called and left this message on my machine. 

“I just spend $63 in postage to send you $10 worth of bad meat.  The genes I inherited from mom are screaming at me”. 

We will, for the moment, ignore the obvious difference of opinion that exists between us over scapple’s relative value and go directly to the issue of the screaming genes.

I have heard them scream myself. 

Now that mom is gone, I plan to use some of the money she left me to renovate my kitchen. This seems to have sent her genes into overdrive.  They scream at me for planning to buy a new stove and refrigerator despite the fact that the ones I have are perfectly good. They are horrified that I will spend money to move my sink 8 inches to the right so that it is centered under my kitchen window.  They cry out at the travesty of tearing down a perfectly good closet in order to buy pantry cabinets. 

When this happens, I find it helpful to put on the Jimmy Buffet song “We Are The People Our Parents Warned Us About”, turn the volume up to ear drum shattering level and drown out the sound. Eventually the genes surrender and peace returns.

I still find myself amazed at the meals my parents were able to produce in their kitchen. I have quadruple the amount of space they had and at least 10 times as many gadgets yet I feel overwhelmed if more than four people are coming for dinner. They routinely fed our large extended family, including neighbors and Philadelphia relatives, without drawing blood as they tripped over each other in the kitchen.

I feel as though there is never enough counter space. My mom spent her entire life in a kitchen with a single table and the top of her washing machine as all the counter space she had.

So in a way, I consider this kitchen renovation as her memorial – the kitchen she should have had.  I would feel a lot better about that dedication if I could just drown out the screams of these genes. Maybe it’s time to switch from Jimmy Buffet to Jimi Hendrix.