My mom was a collector of all things kitchen. She loved it all, new things, vintage things, practical things and not so practical things. As a child, she dragged me around to every kitchen and antique store within a 60 mile radius of our small eastern Oregon town. I actually didn’t mind and it was a passion that I secretly shared with her.
As an adult, whenever I visited my mom she would always send me home with assorted kitchen doodads and gadgets. As I unloaded our car, my husband would cringe and ask, “Just how many frying pans do we actually need!” Some of kitchen items she gave me over the years were the practical kind but some were just silly and just took up valuable kitchen drawer and cupboard space. One day, searching for my Presto Salad Shredder that she’d given me a few years back and unable to locate it, my husband confessed that it he had gotten rid of it. Sure it was loud and very obnoxious, I wouldn’t disagree, but I liked it anyway. It was back to shredding cheese the old fashioned way, by hand.
My mom also collected cookbooks. During her trips to visit my twin brother in Portland she would always make her pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books, which is one of the largest new and used bookstores in the world. Upon her arrival back home, I’d pick her at the gate in the Boise airport, her thin frail body carrying heavy bags loaded down with her new cookbooks.
My mom didn’t collect only junk. She also had good taste and loved mail order kitchen catalogs like the Chef’s Catalog and Williams-Sonoma. Over the years, the small town local postman made several trips down the dry dusty country road they lived on to deliver her newest Le Creuset casserole dish or De Buyer French made frying pans.
Her kitchen things brought her much joy over the years. She ended up spending most of her last days standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window surrounded by all the things she loved. At least a hundred very old kitchen gadgets, some of whose purpose I’m not certain, were neatly hung on a pegboard on the kitchen wall. She also loved her collection of “Negro” salt and pepper shakers, items that might make someone who didn’t know my mom wonder about her racial attitudes (I’m pretty sure, though, that we were the only kids in our town whose mother brought us issues of Ebony and Jet from the city library because she knew that was likely the only way we could “encounter” African Americans in our little town). She stacked old cookie jars high up on top of the cupboards and placed other assorted antique doodads in precise spots on the kitchen counters.
It wasn’t until after my mom’s death that my dad and siblings were able clean out their old home in the country. Several years before my mom died she and my dad moved to a nearby small town because my mom felt too isolated in the country. But she didn’t want us kids to touch anything in the old place. After she died we decided to have a garage sale of her huge collection from the old place. Among the overwhelming boxes of kitchen stuff we packed up, there were at least 200 cookie cutters, spatulas (I stopped counting after 12), a couple of toasters, coffee makers and deep fryers. We packed up antique mason jars in pretty colors of green and purple, dish sets, pots and pans, eight brand new Messermeister knives, hundreds of cookbooks and the list goes on and on. Tucked in the back of one of the cupboards I found the popcorn popper of my childhood, a 1960s vintage Mirro electric popcorn popper. Dusty from not being used for years, I snagged it before my siblings could get it.
I have fond memories of my mom making popcorn with melted butter for us when we were little. Besides the popper, an old hand cheese grater, some cookbooks and a few other odds and ends that I limited myself to bringing home, I was delighted to discover that the vintage popper still worked.
My dad is starting to get tired of having to dust all those old kitchen things. He wants us to take what we want and pack up the rest. I’m not ready for that. Visiting my dad and standing in my mom’s kitchen admiring all the things she spent hours carefully picking out and purchasing one at a time makes me feel much closer to her. I’m sure my siblings feel the same way.