Monday, April 2, 2012

Missing a high shrill whistle

It was a sound we heard often in my grandmother’s kitchen with its big long table, high ceiling, tall cabinets and porcelain sink bearing an old hand pump. High-pitched and long was that whistle from Grandma’s shiny silver-colored tea kettle, until she lifted the vessel from the burner to hush it.

If we would have let her, Grandma would have lived on tea and toast. She loved it that much. Grandma didn’t need a tea bag. A little of the brown instant powder suited her fine, sweetened just so with a smidgeon of milk added to turn it a soft caramel brown. 

Hubby and I have been sorting and purging, hoping to make a move later this year to our retirement home in Missouri. A couple weeks ago, when going through some things we inherited from the new home’s previous owners, I found an old tea kettle buried deep within the bowels of the long low cupboard under the island. It hadn’t been used for years, I was sure. Lord only knows how much lime was built up in it. No matter how much I let water boil in that kettle, I’d never feel it was clean, so it went in the kitchen trash bag and ended up in the dumpster as we drove up the hill to head back to Illinois. 

Last week, I found a box in the cupboard in the garage here at home – one that hadn’t been opened since we left our Galesburg home 15 years ago. Among clothespins, clothesline rope and a shriveled-up roll of silver duct tape was another tea kettle – the special one I got when we got married. Shiny stainless steel like my grandma’s with a copper bottom to match my pots and pans and the ones I watched my mother polish years earlier, the black-handled kettle was a must-have when I got married – probably more because it reminded me of Grandma, good times and even better food in her kitchen than because I might actually use it. 

I did, though, for a few years, until hot pots and microwaves found their way into our homes and on to our kitchen counters. I found myself using my tea kettle less and less, eventually putting it below the counter and finally burying it in that box, where it stayed until last weekend, its copper bottom tarnished and its stainless steel now dull. 

When I found it, I looked at it a little longer and harder than I did the one a week or so before, but I felt the same about my ability to get years’ worth of settled yuck out of this one as I did the first time around, so I tossed it across the garage, scoring three points as it banked off the rim of the big blue trash bin and fell inside. I felt a little as if I were betraying the kettle or my grandmother, though, instead of the joy I normally feel at such an athletic feat.

These days when I want tea, I warm the water in the hot pot or the microwave. I choose any one of a variety of gourmet-flavored tea bags left over from my youngest granddaughter’s first tea party. But every once in a while, I’ll add a little sugar and milk to my cup, pop a couple pieces of white bread in the toaster and sit down alone with the comfort feast at my kitchen table, as my grandmother often did at hers in the nearly two-and-a-half decades she lived alone after my grandfather’s death. 

It just feels right. 

The tea kettle may be a thing of the past – in my home, at least – but, when I listen with my heart over a cup of warm tea, its whistle and the memories it stirs are with me as much today as they were when I joined Grandma for a warm drink at her table half a century ago.   

At those times, I miss that whistle – and I miss my Grandma more.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

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