The Bungalow wasn’t always blue. Built in 1926 in the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior, by the time we first saw it, in 1999, it was color of day-old oatmeal. We painted it the same color as Batman’s cape circa 1967.
It’s likely that at some point in its first 74 years, the kitchen was remodeled, but there was little evidence of such. It still had that old knob and tube wiring which meant that we couldn’t work the toaster and the blender at the same time.
But Nurse Vivian loved that old kitchen. As did I. Many of the drawers wouldn’t open. The sink backed up every other Tuesday, and no matter what temperature I set the oven at, it still didn’t bake anything in under three hours.
The Thanksgiving after Nurse Vivian died, Pop visited. It was the year of the triplets, and he took us out to Ikea to buy a kitchen table, as my mother had said that and the statue of Saint Jude were my inheritance.
In almost two decades, that table got burns from my chili, and fork marks from the boys. The rungs on the chairs had been chewed through by some twenty-one rescue dogs all and all, and one of the legs was lower than the rest, so it was always like eating on board a rowboat.
And one day, I think it was either the day we got the thousand-dollar phone bill or the day Aidan got his head stuck in the staircase, we decided to renovate.
Four days before Christmas, we boxed up all the dented pots and PepsiCo glasses and closed the door on our ancient kitchen. The contractor came in, and reduced it down to the studs and plaster. Everything went wrong that winter: Zane got suspended and Krypto passed away.
We had moved the refrigerator to the porch. Brian and I picked up a dozen frozen dinners at Safeway on the theory that we could microwave our way through the crisis. The next night, the power went out in the entire outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior. I walked out to the porch and it started raining. There are few things less appetizing than unfrozen tv dinners in soggy cardboard boxes.
I stood there and cried. Zane came out. By candlelight he saw the turkey meal in my hand, mashed potatoes now paste. He put his hand on my shoulder, “Some days Dad, you got to tear down the whole kitchen if you want to make it better.”
We would have starved had it not been for Bravo’s Pizza.
When the contractor was almost finished, we had to pick the paint. Zane chose turquoise, the exact shade of Superman’s costume. We took weeks to schlep up all the dishes and Wonder Woman coffee cups from the basement.
We never got round to moving the table back. The kitchen had shrunk somehow, and it no longer fit.
So dinners moved to the dining room. Prior to that, that walnut table was used for Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas, but now we sat down there every night, held hands, said grace and toasted the best boys on earth. Bandit quickly figured out where to sit under the table for maximum begging but for me, I feel a little “off.” The view is better in the dining room, and Aidan has been pulling the leather off the chairs so that they would look as beaten up as the kitchen ones but it still feels sacrilegious to eat Hamburger Helper under a Waterford chandelier.
He wasn’t quite ready for Zane’s absence to mean such focus on him. When dealing with Zane skipping an entire week of school, Aidan’s C Minus in Social Studies never caught our attention.
But for now we helicopter. Brian started looking for a science project, five months before the fair. We sit at the dining room table and review the Math, the Biology, the Vocabulary: “Aidan, what does ‘interrogate’ mean?”
“It’s what you do with my homework.”
“What is the antonym for ‘sullen’?”
“You know I can’t tell an antonym from a cinnamon. “
“Or between a homonym and a heteronym,” I sighed. To his questioning look I said, “Heteronyms: when the way you pronounce a word changes its meaning. It’s the difference between tear in my pants and tear on my pillow.”
“Dad, you do know I’m going to be a heteronym when I grow up.”
It’s been a rough year, but we’ll get through this, even if the kitchen table doesn’t fit anymore. We’re down to the studs and the plaster, but sometimes you got to tear down as well as tear up if you want to make the family better.