It’s not normal, I suppose, to think of Cher at one’s high school reunion. One of my favorite seeming non-sequitors in movies is from Moonstruck, when her Oscar-winning Loretta informs her dad Cosmo that she’s got to tell him something important.
“Let’s go to the kitchen,” says Cosmo.
I’ve seen it dozens of times at household parties, the living room and dining room are empty, and the 12×18 kitchen has 24 people in it. We had a joke growing up that the only room in the house that had no life to it was the living room. I still remember sticking to plastic seat-covers all over our neighborhood.
Frank Lloyd Wright saw no point in a front porch for seating. When he was designing homes, the automobile had taken full reign of the streets and the porch intended for sitting while conversing with passers-by in carriages was obsolete. He even took great pains to hide the front door altogether.
And as the porch has come back in various times of nostalgia, the kitchen has grown every decade. From its original 1920’s size…
To a room you in which you can not only watch a football game, but possibly play one…
Kitchens are the heart and soul of the home. They originally were the only source of heat, let alone sustenance. It made much more sense to stay in that room if you wanted to survive. Even the ghosts in Poltergeist made themselves known there–after the television static opening. It’s a center of life–even after death.
Many new homes don’t have dining rooms anymore–or if they do, they’re little sidecars that are almost embarrassments to the rest of the rooms. My father used the dining room as his office. And his office, well that was lost long ago when all of us wanted our own room. It must have been similar to the time that Mike Brady turned over his fortress of solitude to Greg…
Which brings me to my class reunion and a topic I touched on when baseball season began, in Tiger Stadium: What Makes a Ballpark. What is it about certain locations that seem to breed memories?
It took me thirty years to put together what made our class so special. The teachers at Clawson High School commented on it, even when we were in 10th grade. There were cliques, of course, but there was also a great bit of fluidity between those groups. We’ve had a reunion with nearly 100 people (out of 230) show up ever five years without a problem. But why did that happen? After 25 years in high school classrooms, I noticed that some classes were tighter than others. It sometimes came down to a few leaders who might do the extra dance, fundraiser or party.
But in our case, I finally realized, it was Joe Smith’s driveway.
Someone else lives there now, but I still drive by the place and look at the 1960s ranch very fondly. For four years, in cool autumn nights for 3-4 weeks, we’d build a float for Homecoming. And we won every year, except for our freshman year, when our approved theme was disallowed at the last moment of judging. (I’m still trying to figure out which class adviser actually gave the thumbs-up to a large trojan head drinking from a huge Colt 45 beer can: “Down the Colts” was our theme against Troy that year.
Okay, maybe not a good call. But we learned and each year became a challenge to out-do the previous year–not only in politically correct style points but in technology as well. By senior year, the plywood trojan was now a twelve-foot muppet that kicked an Eagle (Madison High School’s mascot) through a goal post.
Joe was able to cull the greatest talents from our school, picking the best artists, machinists and most importantly, the best enforcers in our class. Each evening, as the Homecoming date grew near, we needed to be on the lookout for competing class saboteurs–generally driving by with a couple dozen eggs in their cars. It seemed half the football team showed up to help with guard detail.
The small driveway was a chance to meet classmates we’d never otherwise meet, all while cutting hundreds of colored garbage bags in slices and bunching them up in carnations, tying them with wire and feeding them into a chicken wire frame–while the artists/engineers worried about the big picture.
The smell of those autumn nights is merged with the music of the early 80’s, generally Queen, Boston, Steely Dan, and Led Zeppelin. It was in Joe’s driveway that we heard that drummer John Bonham had died and many of us had tickets for the cancelled October concert.
The nearest geographical location in my experience to Joe’s driveway is Spider Park, just across the street. Dogwalkers and young parents have met regularly at this old throwback climbing set–probably complete with lead paint. Now, many of the kids congratulated on starting kindergarten have finished their freshman year of college, but the parents have remained so close that we’re all on a pact not to move from the neighborhood unless we all go together.
Porches, kitchens, driveways, parks. All places we get together and form lasting memories–in spite of ourselves.