In the early ’30s, I spent considerable time in my maternal Gramma’s kitchen in the lower flat of a big double house around the corner from Humboldt Park. So when my Dad joyously took us all to the Beahan home on the rural outskirts of Carthage, Gramma Beahan’s country kitchen afforded me some novel experiences.
Gramma Klein was an expert German cook and a meticulous housekeeper who had worked for some of the best families on Delaware Avenue. She made unbelievable potato pancakes, and recalling the smell of her roast pork, mashed potatoes and gravy cooking still makes me hungry.
Her kitchen had a flour bin under the cupboard that opened with an outward leaning door and had room for a 50-pound bag of flour. A wooden icebox sat in the back hall. The gas range always had a percolator pot on it with grounds left over to be reused till thoroughly exhausted. There was a spotless porcelain sink and hot and cold water taps.
When Mom was little, a man came to the door and asked her if they wanted to convert from gas to electric lighting. She slammed the door but Gramma caught him down the street.
One Sunday, Grampa Klein invited all of the family to come back to the bathroom to show off his new “silent-flow” toilet. Instead of reaching up to pull the chain of a wall tank, he proudly touched a porcelain handle that released a swoosh of water into the bowl with absolutely no gurgle or clank.
The Beahan place was one of three on a gravel lane called Beaver Street. It was a single-family, two-story clapboard house on a half-acre backed by a pasture where Johnny Jones kept one cow.
The nicest thing was they had no electricity. When we stayed up after dark, we would read and talk by the glow of a kerosene lamp. There was a delicious hint of kerosene scent.
Gramma’s kitchen had almost no cupboards, but just off the parlor was a pantry from which wafted the delicious aroma of rising bread. Within the pantry was a door to a cool, hand-dug cellar with a stock of apples and potatoes and its own intriguing smell.
She had a large wood-burning cookstove. You needed no alarm clock. It was time to get up when Gramma started clanking open the iron rings on the stove top to build a fire for breakfast. That breakfast was my favorite ever. Her homemade bread was toasted over wood-flame and anointed copiously with butter.
The galvanized kitchen sink had one cold-water tap. Warm water came from a tank at the back of the stove. The hand towel was a 10-foot-long harsh gray cloth looped over a hook. You used a foot or so to try to get dry and then tugged it around the hook for the next victim.
Off the kitchen, a door led to the woodshed where Grampa stacked wood, and kept his tools. I noticed there was no bathroom. Dad showed us the giant porcelain mugs under the beds and the two-holer shed in the backyard. Then I made the mistake of asking, “How do I take a bath?”
Gramma produced a washtub from the woodshed and sat it in the middle of the busy kitchen. Dad filled it with water from the stove. I was bid, “Get in.” I did, with great reluctance, being unused to bathing with an audience. I could hardly wait to get home and see what Grampa Klein would think of that.