Whistling in the Kitchen
I have fond memories of my childhood in the South, and waking shortly after sunrise to the escalating sound of the whistle on grandmother’s kettle as the steam from the boiling water made sure no one in the house overslept. For some reason, I suppose she felt she had to do that every morning, and it may have only been her subtle way of waking the “sleepy heads”.
However, there was a more beautiful whistle that came from my mom’s kitchen. It wasn’t coming from a steaming pot on the range, but from my mom’s lips.
I didn’t know until I became older and learned from my friends that mom’s whistling in the kitchen wasn’t natural. It wasn’t even normal for a lady to whistle, or so they attempted to convince me.
At our house, Mom’s whistling in the kitchen was as natural as the pleasant smell of dinner floating through the evening air. Most of the time, they accompanied each other.
There was no noisy TV in the house, just noisy kids playing with some conventional toy – jar- rings on a string, an old stock pot and a wooden spoon, or a Tupperware rolling pen.
The local AM radio station would give up an hour of their secular airtime at noon to play Southern Gospel music, and mom was likely to have that filtering through the house. Otherwise, Mom’s whistling seemed to set the ambiance of the country cottage.
I knew, even as a child, that Mom had the joy of the Lord in her heart. She was quite similar to the whistling tea pot that sang louder and louder as the temperature within rose well beyond the boiling point. The more pressure she was under, the more she whistled.
Mom didn’t smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, use profanity or beat the children to release the mounting stress. She just whistled.
I’ve seen her so lost in her melodious render that she never noticed visitors entering the kitchen. If she did notice, it seemed to take her a moment to withdraw from her haven and come back to the present.
It was not uncommon to hear her whistle turn into a beautiful hum, or even a “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord. Thank you Jesus”. Then after a moment or two, she would wipe the tears from her eyes and start whistling again on the second stanza.
I visited Mom again last weekend. She’s no longer standing at the kitchen sink washing and whistling or stirring a steaming stew on her stove. As a matter of fact, it’s been quite a while since she did those things.
I pressed the security button, pulled the door opened and walked inside. Not seeing her in the chapel, nor in the visiting area, I headed down the hallway and peeked into her room. She wasn’t there, so I walked a little farther to the dining hall. Sitting at the table with the other patients, almost an hour before dinner, she was watching the giant screen and awaiting her meal.
She offered a big smile, hugged my neck and gave me a soft kiss on my cheek. She couldn’t call my name, but her eyes assured me that she still knew me and was glad to see me.
Since we had time before her meal, I pushed her down the hallway and into the visiting area where we could talk. I did most of the talking, for her words are now scrambled and few.
Occasionally she chuckled and bounced with laughter as I attempted to engage her with some off-the-wall dialogue, but mostly she just sat and stared.
I fought the tears as I yearned for days gone by, but the pain was too great. She smiled as I dried my eyes. I wondered if she missed those days too.
“Mom, can you whistle for me?” I asked, knowing she had not been able to do so for some time now, and she may not even understand my question.
To my tearful surprise, she puckered her lips and for just a moment whistled the most beautiful melody. For those few seconds, we went back to that old country kitchen and a childhood never forgotten. Then the moment passed as quickly as it came.
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