Monday, May 16, 2011

A Whole Multi-Plex on One Screen

Photo courtesy Flickr

Looking for a Flickr photo last week, I ran across an image of a tiny, monstrously cluttered Tokyo apartment kitchen. Later in the day, I met a childhood playmate for coffee, and we spent some time discussing our mother’s kitchens. They had been good friends, and enough time has passed for Sandra and I to have experienced independently the same process of inheritance.

Each of us has been on the receiving end of the best Seattle culture has had to offer the home chef, over and over, as our elders have passed on, downsized, and upgraded. It was a hoot to talk pots and pans with someone who understands references like “the full Keeg’s” or “1958 Bellevue”. The topic lends itself to wine with lunch, although we were abstaining.

When I moved in with my partner, we had four full kitchens worth of gear. He cooked Chinese, Japanese, East Indian (Native American, too, if you count the fry bread), and Mid-Western. I was cooking early Julia Child, Swedish, Berkeley, SF, and proto-soul. My mother’s gear and my grandmother’s, some of which came from an honest-to-goodness log homestead cabin, added to the mix.

My mother was gone by the time Larry and I realized we had to sort inventory. Consolidating kitchens was a serious moment of commitment. It helped that I did not have a female elder second-guessing my decisions. We shipped surplus to a suburban consignment store and plowed the profits into a first class set of enameled French cast-iron cookware.

Sandra is still on the receiving end of a steady trickle of quality hand-me-downs, and she wrestles with inventory as we all do. It helps to remember that problems of abundance are not really problems, and that problems with intra-family decision-making are, at heart, civil rights issues of self-determination. Elders are right to treat things as stores of wealth, and stores of the spirit of the family as well. We are right to treat our attention, time, and personal energy as wealth in themselves.

The best advice about thing management I ever heard was to get rid of something if I hadn’t used it in three days. I’ll never manage so drastically, but that’s a no-nonsense way to keep things in their place.

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