I grew up in a typical ’50s ranch. 3 (tiny) bedrooms. 1 (tiny) bathroom. 1 (tiny) dining room. 1 (tiny-to-average) living room. And 1 (tiny) galley kitchen. You know. The kind of kitchen that doubles as a hallway. So that a person must walk through it in one direction, then turn left to access the dining room. Or walk through it in the other direction, then turn right-ish to access the living room.
At least it was a through-street galley kitchen. It may have been squished for cooking but it was ideal for running circles around the inner core of the house. In pairs. Going opposite directions.
My first adult-apartment-galley kitchen, not so much. It was one of those architectural wonders tucked into a back corner of nothing. You know. The kind of kitchen that doubles as a hallway. To nowhere.
I’m all grown up now and I have a kitchen that still serves as a hallway in some respects. But that doesn’t matter because now I have an island.
That place around which crowds gather.
For a long time.
To talk. And feast. And talk some more.
It is quite possibly the 8th wonder of the modern world.
Late on Wednesday nights, after a crowd of college women depart my house (where they have consumed several loaves of banana bread, many tall glasses of milk, some mugs of coffee, a few cups of tea, and a portion of Scripture) my island is tangly. Busy. Scattered.
It’s my favorite night of the week. It’s my favorite view of the island.
Except for those very rare occasions when the power goes out just before dinner on another night. And the only way to eat the 9×13 pan of goulash is by candlelight. Candlelight that evokes Advent. (Or maybe radioactive elbow macaroni.)
What’s more lovely than enjoying a candlelight family dinner around the kitchen island? The glow is joyful. The ambiance is restful. The quiet is soothing. And the goulash is especially splendid.
Of course, the looming question soon becomes this: what, exactly, happens next? After we take our last bite? After this unexpected sweet dinner vigil is over?
Because, well, you know, there’s no power. There’s no way to use anything requiring electrical juice or internet bandwidth.
Panic. (I can’t live without modern conveniences which makes me an immigrant-descendant super-failure.)
Stress. (So are we supposed to just talk all night?)
Sadness. (We used to know how to play board games.)
And then sweet relief. (Oh look – the power’s on. We are saved from our pathetic selves.)
Sadness. (It was prettier by candlelight.)
Stress. (We’ve become those people – the ones who are defined by their power adapters.)
Panic. (How can I recover just a tiny little sliver of that peaceful beauty, proving I’m not one of those people?)
With a flip of the power-company master-switch (and the hard work of many devoted employees), my kitchen island went from being an oasis in the dark to being a harsh glare of manufactured light. Which changed everything about the room. And the meal. And us.
Sure, we could see better.
But it wasn’t as sweet. Or as peaceful. Or as (dare I say it) holy.
So I acted. With a flip of the electric-customer kitchen-switch (and a few puffs of breath to soften the candlelight even more), my kitchen island went from being drenched in glaring rays to being cloaked in whispered light. And it changed everything about the room. And the meal. And us.
For about 5 minutes. Because powered habits are really hard to break. So the electronics are running full force. Like usual.
I find that sad.
Even so, my kitchen island – whether lit by a satin-nickle triple-globed ceiling fixture, 10 candles, or just 1 – is a treasure, more than adequate for hosting a feast, surviving the darkness, or welcoming the occasional castaway. Or all three.
I think Robert Louis would approve.