I’m in the kitchen frying shishito peppers while tending the potatoes, red peppers and chicken sausages in the oven. My daughter Kerala is making chimichurri sauce in the blender, my daughter Talia is putting together a kale salad, my wife Karen is sewing with granddaughter Zadie and grandson Malik comes in the back door with his new friend Teo who lives in the building where Kerala’s best friend Ariel use to live and both she (and now Teo) could come into our yard through a gap in the fence. Our upstairs neighbor John stops by and for a brief moment, the house is abuzz with that communal energy that I lived another lifetime ago when my kids were growing up and my parents might stop by for a visit. Only now, we’ve all moved up a slot. My wife and I at the age my parents were, my children coming home from work through the front door, my grandson coming in the back door with his neighbor friend. Another turn of the wheel.
I’ve settled into the two-person quiet life of the retired, mostly happily enjoying the solitude and the time apart from the hubbub of the bigger family, the energy of young kids, the challenges and delights of young parents. But the moment in the kitchen felt like life the way it’s supposed to be led and has been for millennium. All ages together, the warmth of cooking food, the community of neighbors, the air vibrant with the chatter of people happily connecting with each other. This the feeling I always admire when I travel to places like Ghana or Bali or Peaks Island in Maine, places where everyone knows their neighbors and they stop by unannounced to visit or chat over the fence or in the marketplace.
I remember seeing a documentary once about an anthropologist from New Guinea coming to the United States to study an exotic tribe of people known as Americans. She was stunned to find a culture where people sat alone in homes staring at blue screens, children sued their parents, elders where isolated away in special homes, kids were isolated away in schools in classes where ages didn’t mix, people spent thousands of dollars to sit alone in a room with a therapist wondering why they were so lonely. To her mind, this was both incomprehensible and sad. I agree.
Naturally, I will always appreciate some space and solitude, but it’s good to remember that feeling in the kitchen. The grandkids spent the night at Aunt Talia’s and I’ve spent the morning catching up on e-mails and such. And now they’ve come through the door. Back into the din, the uproar, the clamor and tumult and hullabaloo I go!