Tuesday, October 10, 2006

In a memory kitchen

I rarely drink water from a juice glass. At work, I drink my way through a 32-ounce Nalgene bottle. At home, I drink water from large tumblers or Dixie cups. But this morning we were out of Dixie cups, and I wanted just a sip of water. So I filled a juice glass at the kitchen sink and had a moment of what Proust calls "involuntary memory," the unbidden return of the past via sensory stimuli.

Drinking this glass of water brought me back to the details of my grandparents' Brooklyn kitchen. The juice glass brought to mind my grandparents' glassware, most likely made by Libbey, with floral designs baked on. Water from my grandparents' tap would turn to a gray cloud in a glass and then clear. Whatever the reason -- aeration? the softness or hardness of the water? -- it doesn't happen at my sink. (And right now I am also remembering being fascinated in childhood by jelly glasses, the way whatever stories they told -- usually of the Flintstones -- ended and began again and again as one turned the glass, like a childhood version of Finnegans Wake.)

Looking around this memory kitchen, I recalled four other details -- cutlery with red plastic handles, a aluminum percolator with a glass knob at its top, a black- and grey-speckled metal roasting pan, and the fluorescent ring that seemed at one point synonymous with "kitchen," anybody's kitchen. I thought about aprons and anisette, but only vaguely. I thought of my grandparents as being in the living room, right next to the kitchen.

Later this afternoon, my wife Elaine made espresso, and the metallic coffee smell put me in my grandparents' kitchen all over again.

comments: 4

Anonymous said...

I had a similar burst of memory when I saw jewel-tone aluminum glasses at a flea market. I remembered exactly how water tasted in those glasses at my grandma's house, and how an iced drink was colder in her aluminum drinking glasses than in any other container.

Michael Leddy said...

I remember aluminum glasses too, Genevieve, as part of the childhood mystery of other people's houses, their glasses, their food, and so on.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that sent me back a ways! I had forgotten, as a native NYer/escapee, how the water from the tap would cloud up like that.
And the jelly glasses. And the fluorescent ring.
The percolator, however, I had not forgotten about, as I have kept one of my mother's since I first left for college, oh, nearly 20 years ago. I have fond memories of the smell of coffee (Chock Full O' Nuts!) perking as my grandmother and mother would sit down at the kitchen table to discuss the price of tomatoes at the A&P...

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, Chock Full O' Nuts, with that song. I remember kitchen discussions of the bread codes — my mom and my grandparents figuring out how to crack the dates on loaves of Arnold and Pepperridge Farm.