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THE OLD KITCHEN DOOR
THE white porch, with its high roof and two severely plain pillars to support it; the heavy door, with its ponderous knocker; the straggling sweetbrier at one side; the forlorn yellow rose between the parlor windows; the grass that was too cold to welcome a dandelion; the low box hedge, and one huge box bush that never sheltered a bird's nest; all these were in front to solemnly greet that terror of my early days, — company.
To me these front-door features all meant, and still mean, restraint; but how different the world that lingered about the old farmhouse kitchen door! There was no cold formality there, but freedom, — the healthy freedom of old clothes, an old hat; ay, even the luxury of an open-throated shirt was allowed.
After a tramp over the meadows, after a day's fishing, after the round of the rabbit-traps in winter, what joy to enter the kitchen door and breathe in the delectable odor of hot gingerbread! There were appetites in those days.
I do not understand the mechanism of a modern kitchen: it looks to me like a small machine-shop; but the old farm kitchen was a simple affair, and the intricacies and mystery lay wholly in the dishes evolved. It is said of my grandmother that a whiff of her sponge-cake brought the humming-birds about. I do know there was a crackly crust upon it which it is useless now to try to imitate.
But the door itself — we have none such now. It was a double door in two ways. It was made of narrow strips of oak, oblique on one side and straight on the other, and so studded with nails that the whole affair was almost half metal. It was cut in two, having an upper and a lower section. The huge wooden latch was hard and smooth as ivory. At night the door was fastened by a hickory bar, which, when I grew strong enough to lift it, was my favorite hobby-horse.
The heavy oak sill was worn in the middle until its upper surface was beautifully curved, and to keep the rain out, when the wind was south, a canvas sand-bag was rolled against it. A stormy-day amusement was to pull this away on the sly, and sail tiny paper boats in the puddle that soon formed on the kitchen floor. There was mischief in those days.
Kitchens and food are of course inseparably connected, and what hunting-ground for boys equal to the closets where the cakes were kept? I do not know that the matter was ever openly discussed, but as I look back it seems as if it was an understood thing that, when our cunning succeeded in outwitting auntie, we could help ourselves to jumbles. Once I became a hero in this line of discovery, and we had a picnic behind the lilacs; but, alas! only too soon we were pleading for essence of peppermint. Overeating is possible, even in our teens.
Recent raids in modern kitchen precincts are never successful. Of late I always put my hand in the wrong crock, and find pickles where I sought preserves. I never fail, now, to take a slice of a reserved cake, or to quarter the pie intended for the next meal. Age brings no experience in such matters. It is a case where we advance backward.
Of the almost endless phases of life centring about the kitchen door there is one which stands out so prominently that it is hard to realize the older actor is now dead and that of the young on-lookers few are left. Soon after the dinner-horn was sounded the farm hands gathered at the pump, which stood just outside the door, and then in solemn procession filed into the kitchen for the noonday meal. All this was prosy enough, but the hour's nooning after it, — then there was fun indeed.
Scipio — "Zip," for short — was not ill-natured, but then who loves too much teasing? An old chestnut burr in the grass where he was apt to lie had made him suspicious of me, and I had to be extra cautious. Once I nearly overstepped the mark. Zip had his own place for a quiet nap, and, when stretched upon the grass under the big linden, preferred not to be disturbed. Now it occurred to me to be very funny. I whittled a cork to the shape of a spider, added monstrous legs, and with glue fastened a dense coating of chicken-down over all.
It was a fearful spider.
I suspended the sham insect from a limb of the tree so that it would hang directly over Zip's face as he lay on the ground, and by a black thread that could not be seen I could draw it up or let it down at pleasure. It was well out of sight when Zip fell asleep, and then I slowly lowered the monster until it tickled his nose. It was promptly brushed aside. This was repeated several times, and then the old man awoke. The huge spider was just touching his nose, and one glance was enough. With a bound and a yell he was up and off, in his headlong flight overturning the thoughtless cause of his terror. I was the more injured of the two, but never dared in after-years to ask Zip if he was afraid of spiders.
And all these years the front door never changed. It may have been opened daily for aught I know, but I can remember nothing of its history.
Stay! As befitting such an occurrence, it was open once, as I remember, when there was a wedding at the house; but of that wedding I recall only the preparations in the kitchen for the feast that followed; and, alas! it has been opened again and again for funerals.
Why, indeed, should the front door be remembered? It added no sunshine to the child's short summer; but around the corner, whether dreary winter's storm or the fiercest heat of August fell upon it, the kitchen door was the entrance to a veritable elysium.