Spying on other people’s kitchens…

Sping on Other People's Kitchens... by Keri Kettle

When I was a kid, we moved around a lot.  Each new school meant finding new friends.  I learned to look for the kid who was sitting alone.  A group of girls is not necessarily going to welcome the new girls with open arms.  But the shy or just “different” kid sitting by themselves, isn’t usually going to boot you from the lunch table.  Choosing to start with the “different kid” usually meant the first kid I made friends with was a different race or ethnicity from the main group.  Sometimes it meant befriending the biggest, scariest-looking girl on the playground.  Sometimes it meant walking home with the girl wearing the home-knit sweater instead of a winter coat.

I loved hearing their stories, walking in to their kitchens with the foreign smells and new foods to try that mothers and grandmothers were always piling on my plate.  Collecting stories is one of my favorite past times and making new friends as a kid meant getting to see how other people lived.

Felicia wasn’t allowed to have friends in the house after school because her mom cared for elders in the house, so we would sit on the stoop outside her flat in San Francisco.  I would help entertain her little sister with songs and fairy tales while Felicia had the job of combing out and braiding her hair.

Lisa’s face turned red with shame the day we saw her grandmother picking vegetables out of the trash behind my family’s favorite Chinese restaurant.  I pretended I didn’t see her.  In her grandmother’s kitchen there were shelves from floor to ceiling filled with rows of glass jars containing things I didn’t recognize.  It seemed like it was always steamy in there and the smells coming from the pots didn’t smell at all like the Chinese take-out we got from the same restaurant on Friday nights even though the owner of that restaurant and Lisa’s family were both from Taiwan.

Jill’s mom was from Southern California and didn’t know how to cook.  By the time Jill and I became friends, my family had moved to Germany and we were living near an American military base.  Even in the middle of snowy winters, her Dad would be bundled up and barbecuing their dinner while her mom made a salad.  If I was lucky enough to be at her house after school, her mom always made us a hot snack.  Since she didn’t cook, it was usually a slice of American cheese broiled on an English Muffin or Spaghetti-O’s from a can. As a latchkey kid who made her own after school snack, this seemed like such a luxury – even if the warm snack was kind of gross.  One day she excitedly told us she had tamales for snack, I was so confused when she put a bowl full of small chunks of corn flour floating in a red sauce in front of me.  I had no idea that Chef Boy-ar-dee made canned “tamales”, if they still make them I can only recommend that you stay far, far away from those chunks of sadness.

We all have our weird little families (and if you are a family of one, you have your weirdness, too).  We all have embarrassing relatives.  We all have odd little traditions that someone else might find fascinating or horrifying or a delight.

The world seems so much smaller these days – we can see into the lives of people all over the world via YouTube or FaceBook.  But it’s not the same as having someone’s grandma pile your plate with things you’ve never seen before. It’s not the same as making their sister giggle.  My dream job would be to get to visit people in their kitchens and collect their stories.  Since no one is offering to pay me to do that, I’m going to settle for opening my eyes to the “different” kid in my own midst.  I’m going to look for the ones sitting alone, maybe see if I can join them. If I’m lucky, maybe they will tell me their story.  If I sit next to you, I hope you will tell me yours.

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