Giving Thanks for a Life of Contrast

I’m alone in my kitchen. It’s earrrrrly Sunday morning before Thanksgiving and it is quiet. The calm before the storm. I sit in silence and think about all of the people who will arrive this week. And all of those who won’t. 

This past week, I had my kitchen walls painted. Dark. Dark. Green. My cabinets are very light and they stayed the same. Before this, the kitchen was yellow and I loved it, but after years of living in it, I needed to look at something different. My husband, my decorator/friend, and my mother told me I shouldn’t go dark. “Come January, you’re going to be depressed,” they said. So I painted it light blue first, but no magic happened. It was a wash of cheerful blue, but only cheerful blue. Nothing else. I needed contrast. The beauty—to my eye—is the dark and the light side by side, constantly giving one another the stage and working together to explain life. 

Kitchen BeforeKitchen after
A study in contrast

This morning, the only sounds are a lone bird who hasn’t flown south yet and Rookie eating his kibble. I look around at the pile of sweet potatoes ready to marry marshmallows, the spices in the window still wanting to dance and show off what they can do together, and the ten onions that help everything arrive at its best. I think about all the different parts of our family who will meet here on Thursday to feast together. Our nephew, who is currently honeymooning, will be coming with his brand new bride, whom we love. My brother, who becomes so much dearer to me the older we get, will undoubtedly bring something healthy. He’s younger, but I would take his advice any day of the week. My sister-in-law, who doesn’t feel like an in-law at all, but more like blood, is a blessing beyond measure. 

As I look around, I wonder if we’ll have enough food. If Ken will make fun of the idea of brussel sprouts on Thanksgiving again. If I should use the fine china or the Pier One plates I bought with a gift card. If the smell of rutabaga will make everyone cry. 

My mother-in-law used to make rutabaga, and she’s not with us this year, for the second year in a row. She was the best cook in the family, by far. But she’s gone on to Heaven and left us behind and the kitchen seems even quieter knowing she won’t be here with her pillowy Parker House rolls. Nobody else can get them to spring like that—we’ve tried, but to no avail. She had the touch that no one inherited. 

We did, however, inherit her butter bell, which is worth its weight in gold. There’s nothing better  than room temperature, salted butter on a well-made piece of bread. Smooth and easily convinced to go where it’s told. There’s no battle with it like there is with cold butter. It’s not tasteless like margarine posing as butter. A butter bell, with its odd combination of water in the bottom and butter in the top, is a surprise and delight, and when I look at it, I can feel Evelyn in the kitchen.

Come to think of it, next to the butter bell is the moka pot my sister and her husband brought us from their home in Italy. (It’s only because it’s quiet and all five of my children are still sleeping that I’m even noticing these things. In the busy moments, they’re just the stuff of life.) While I feel closer to her now than any other phase in our adult life, I’d love to have her standing next to the island while I cook, impersonating people like she does and making me double-over with laughter. Jim uses her moka pot every week and I leave it in the windowsill for his easy access. And for my easy access to thoughts of her. 

On the other cabinet is a set of charcoal sketches of each of my children (except the youngest…we’re still waiting on that one). My mom is an artist. She and my dad will be visiting my sister in Italy (they are boarding the plane as I type this), so they won’t be here, and that feels weird. Next to that is a picture from my niece’s wedding. She and her husband are dear to us and we appreciate any time we get with them. What a thing it is to watch someone grow from childhood into adulthood and see what they hang onto and what they let go as wisdom and age guide them. 

Isn’t it interesting how God made the world, using the constraints of time and space to put up boundaries we can do nothing about? Death and Distance are forever frustrating me, not letting me have what I want, not giving me my people for Thanksgiving. All together, in one place. 

I think of our kitchen as our kitchen—Jim’s and mine—full of things we have acquired because we love them and because we are creating a space for our own children to grow. Dishes we registered for. Knick-knacks we picked up along the way. Art we adored. But as I sit in the quiet of this morning and I look around at the piles of food ready to be celebrated, I am stunned at how our families of origin are the ones building our kitchen. They’re everywhere! There’s only space for a few precious things on one set of countertops, and without even meaning to, we’ve given it to our dear ones. Almost all of the things we love most are here because they represent the people we love most. Our children, the bright spots in our days, are keenly aware of what they were born into because it comes up in conversation, in the morning and at night and in the afternoon. 

They know butter is better from a bell. They know coffee from Italy is a whole different thing. They remember being flower girls for Jenny and Chesley. They know charcoal on white paper mixed with love makes for solid portraits. And we tell them stories about all of these people—our people—that make them double-over with laughter. Someday, these children will be the ones we wish we could be with. But not today. Today, they bring delight—a light, of sorts—into the small spaces of life and our gratitude is tangible. 

Something in me knew this kitchen needed contrast on the walls. I needed the aesthetic to tell the story of what’s already happening as our families of origin and our children share one space; the past and the future coming together over daily bread. A dark and a light—side by side—giving each other the stage and working together to explain life.

Candace Echols

Candace Echols is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine

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