I made chili Sunday night in this pot, I blamed the tears I shed on the onions I chopped. It’s the first time I’ve made anything in this pot, although this pot has seen it’s share of meals.
My mother-in-law passed away recently; the family home was sold and it’s contents dispersed, and this pot has come to rest on my stove. A Dutch oven, really, with a heavy thick bottom, a tight fitting roomy lid, and the strength and heft of something made right. No celebrity chef stamp of approval on this one, no fancy metal alloy that makes promises of turning even the everyday user into a gourmet. This Dutch oven belongs to a set whose provenance is unsure, perhaps my father-in-law had purchased it while traveling from Newfoundland to Canada (pre Confederation); a traveling outport salesman may have brought it through one of the tiny communities where he taught. (Not all of the pots hold the same feeling as this, which I think of as the eldest because it’s the biggest. A younger sibling was used to commit horrible atrocities on local fish, as a lovely salmon steak would be plunged into a pot of cold water, lid jammed on, and boiled til it turned white and fell off the bones)
I chopped the onions, and cried thinking about not ever being back in my mother-in-law’s kitchen, that small kitchen in the house where they finally settled to start a family. The first time I stood in that kitchen, I felt embraced by love just as palpable as if someone had put their arms around me. The smells of bread baking, of Christmas roast beef, of turkey and ham, cabbage rolls and pies and tarts and all manner of squares–it was a feast for the olfactory senses. Dicing celery, I laughed remembering my father in law asking why “it only takes Elizabeth an hour to make soup but it takes us all day, Sue?” as he teased his wife.
Next to the little kitchen was the dining room; one end of a long open living area, really. And around that table an incredible number of family feasts were served. I saw in awe my first Christmas there, as three generations of Felthams swarmed from kitchen to living room to dining table, swirling around in an eddy of laughter, and talking, and multiple conversations all taking place at such decibels I couldn’t figure out how anyone could hear anything. And finally, like a game of musical chairs but for the fact that everyone had a seat, we swirled around the table and found a perch from which to eat.
Ever after, when I went home for a visit I made my way into the kitchen as quickly as I could to stand for a quiet minute, absorbing the love and history and feeling myself soothed and lulled into a wonderful feeling of security as the smells and the memories washed over me. And now every time I look at this pot, I’ll be reminded of that feeling and the unconditional love that my mother in law bestowed on us all.
We were told that the new owner of the house claimed that she bought it because she could feel the love. I hope she can. I hope the new homeowners fill the kitchen with as much love and laughter as it has always known.
The Family is the Country of the heart
(Giuseppe Mazzini, The Duties of Man)