I’d been in the Braack’s kitchen more than a dozen times, but when you stand in a kitchen that you’re visiting, it looks different than a kitchen in which you now live.
Even a five-year-old knows where the spoons and cups in her own home are kept. You know if the cookies are in the canister or one-two-three drawers up (climbing them like a staircase), scooching your bottom onto the counter, turning from butt to knees to reach inside the breadbox where the cookies are kept.
What happens when you have to live in someone else’s world? Where are the Oreos?
I was five years old. Five and a few months. It was late fall of my kindergarten year when I was left with the Braacks.
I’m guessing I cried.
Probably Pat lifted me with the arms that had rocked her own four daughters, and consoled me as much as one can console a child whose mother is gone. Surely, Doug jostled me on his knees as he did his daughters.
I have a fleeting impression of thinking ‘My very own bed!’ The mattress was long and slender, so big for my tiny frame, and stood near the door of the room that I shared with their four daughters. In the shards of memory that remain, it is daylight. I am sick.
Pat brought me a bowl to throw up in. I felt so relieved that I would not get sick on my blankets. I was proud to puke in that bowl. Can you see how a small gesture can be such a gift? It gave me control. My father, mother, and siblings were gone, but I had a bowl. My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Wing. Did she look like a chicken? I can’t remember. Did she buk-buk-buk? Did she know a bowl could take the place of a family for a while? Between childhood and middle age my fingers have danced the edges of many bowls. I wandered through some years like a lost child, looking for center in other people’s eyes.
I left the Braacks when I was six; saw them next when I was forty-four. It was Doug and Pat’s fiftieth wedding anniversary.
I met my Braack-sisters again.
It wasn’t the occasion to say, “You gave me a bowl when I was sick.”
Instead, I said, “It’s good to see you again.”
Pat scooped me into her arms. Doug jostled me in his. I wondered if their kitchen looked the same.