Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Your Great Great Grandma’s Kitchen

For the past week I’ve been ingesting a novel so sweetly dripping with hearty and sincere prose that I have to share it with someone. I’m going to let you into my happy little world where I’ve been reverently eavesdropping on the fictional letters of a dying, 76-year-old Mid-western preacher to his young son.
Here is an excerpt from the Pulitzer-awarded Gilead (2004):

We came to this house when I was still a small boy. We had no electricity for years, just kerosene lamps. No radio. I was remembering how my mother used to love her kitchen. Of course it was very different then, with an icebox and a pump sink and a pie safe and a woodstove. That old table is about all that is the same, and the pantry. She had her rocker so close to the stove that she could open the oven door without getting up. She said it was to keep things from burning. She said we couldn’t afford the waste, which was true. She burned things often enough anyway, more often as the years passed, and we ate them anyway, so at least there wasn’t any waste. She loved the warmth of that stove, but it put her to sleep, especially if she’d been doing the wash or putting up preserves. Well, bless her heart, she had lumbago, and she had rheumatism, too, and she did take a a little whiskey for it. She never slept well during the nights. I suppose I got that from her. She’d wake up if the cat sneezed, she said, but then she’d sleep through the immolation of an entire Sunday dinner two feet away from her. That would be on a Saturday, because our family was pretty strict on Sabbath-keeping. So we’d know for an entire day beforehand what we had to look forward to, burned peas and scorched applesauce I remember particularly.

g moses the tramp at christmas
The Tramp At Christmas by Grandma Moses

If I were a time-traveling publisher, I would go back fifty years or so and implore Grandma Moses (1860-1961)to create illustrations for this work. A good deal of my childhood, and beyond, was spent hypothetically living inside her portraits of turn-of-the-century Americana. In my fanciful yet simple imaginary life, there were maple trees to sugar, cows to milk, barn dances to attend. In the wintertime I tucked my hands inside a fur muff, sledded, and rode in horse-drawn carriages with the other children. It was a far cry from my real world, growing up in coastal California where we didn’t know seasons and had to travel hundreds of miles just to have a snowball fight.

g moses january
January by Grandma Moses

One of my first pieces of business when I arrive in the next world is to thank my favorite aunt for giving me an oversized Grandma Moses Storybook when I was about eight. It had stories and poems such as Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, paired with Moses’ unrefined landscapes and rudimentary figures of farmers and townspeople.

Moses didn't begin painting until she was 76, after her husband died, and she created many pieces well into her nineties. Before she died at 101 she said "If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens. I could still do it now. I would never sit back in a rocking chair, waiting for someone to help me."

Gilead is a story of fathers and sons and the strength of family bonds which transcend passionate disagreements over war and religion. It’s about the power and limitations of relationships and the wonder and incomprehensibility of beauty. It is practical and joyful, like a Grandma Moses painting.

g moses all is still
All Is Still by Grandma Moses
This morning I have been trying to think about heaven, but without much success. I don’t know why I should expect to have any idea of heaven. I could never have imagined this world if I hadn’t spent almost eight decades walking around in it.  -Gilead

G Moses a country wedding A Country Wedding by Grandma Moses
She began to come to the house when some of the other women did, to take the curtains away to wash, to defrost the icebox. And then she started coming by herself to tend the gardens. She made them very fine and prosperous. And one evening when I saw her there, out by the wonderful roses, I said, 'How can I repay you for all this?' And she said, 'You ought to marry me.' And I did. -Gilead
g moses hoosick falls in winter 
Hoosick Falls In Winter by Grandma Moses
To play catch of an evening, to smell the river, to hear the train pass… -Gilead


  1. Kit: You have a real way with words. I envy your ability to speak from the heart with the sincerity you do.

  2. Wow. Thank you so much Paul. For twenty years I kind of forgot how much I enjoy writing.


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