Spirit of Place
This is the story of a little Dutch girl, a 1940’s kitchen, and the powerful spirit of place – a spirit which easily passes over 70 years, and is as strong today as it was back then. A spirit formed by the space, the furniture, the objects – mostly utilitarian, some purely decorative and some, like the china canisters, both beautiful and useful. And a spirit formed by the people who inhabited the space – those who lived and worked there, shared food, news, laughter, heartaches, cups of tea – all the big and small stuff of daily life. For my mum, who has lived in well over 30 houses, this kitchen is still vivid in her memory – as real today for her as it was back then. In her description, she captures the spirit of that place for us. These are her words.
“Why talk about a Dutch girl? As I work in our kitchen I look out into the Family room. There on our bookcase is an assortment of little ornaments, all special to me and given to me by family and friends.
But there is one very special ornament that has been with me for a very long time. It is a little Dutch girl about 4 inches high, dressed in a Dutch pinafore and a Dutch cap on her head. She is part of my childhood and she stood on the mantelpiece in our kitchen at Berri, which she shared with a china canister set to hold cooking ingredients. That set was a pretty blue and white set with the names of the ingredients written in German. During the war I turned the set around so no-one would see the German writing! Now it is a family heirloom.
Our kitchen at the Berri manse was very much as other kitchens were at that time. Kitchens usually were blue and cream or green and cream. Ours was blue ,as was the dresser where we kept our plates and cutlery. There were a few built in cupboards and a sink but the feature of the kitchen was the stove. It was a big stove which needed wood to keep the fire alight to heat the oven which accommodated huge trays for baking etc. How great too was the fire where we made our toast! We would put bread on a long fork and sit at the stove to toast the bread …mmmm. Sometimes a few burnt offerings! The stove regularly was cleaned and painted black and parts of it were painted silver but of course that was a job for Mum and Dad. It looked very lovely when finished.
On the top of the stove was a large fountain, that too painted silver, and it held a large quantity of water. No hot water systems in those days but a fountain of hot water, which forever needed to be refilled The mantelpiece was over the stove so that was very much a feature of the kitchen.
The kitchen was the hub of the household and used by the whole family. I have such fond memories of our kitchen. Lino was always the floor covering for a kitchen and even sometimes Lino was adhered to the kitchen table which normally was a big table used for folding and sprinkling clothes on a Monday, ready to be ironed on that same table on a Tuesday. Chores were usually done on certain days eg washing, ironing, baking etc. so life was quite predictable.
But back to my little Dutch girl. She stayed with Mum and Dad until they died and then she was given to me. I treasure her and I know that whoever gets her next will love her too.”
Thanks, Mum, for sharing the spirit of your kitchen with us…