Returning home from our New Year’s Day adventure in a big box store, Tom and I continued to reminisce about the big, white stoves that took up so much space in the small, suburban kitchens of our childhoods. Both Tom’s parents and my multi-generation family eventually hauled these large ovens to other houses; Tom’s to a newer, bigger home, mine to a suburban house, then, after another move, to the basement of my Aunt Christina’s house; the stove’s final resting place.
As we chattered away, I recalled an old black and white photo of Aunt Christina and my grandmother, Yia Yia, posing in front of the stove in the kitchen of the family home on Congress Street in Chicago. It was in this house, the first floor of a two flat, that the picture was taken in. There, we all lived together; a multi-generational mix of aunts and uncles, cousins and grandmother, until I was four and one half years old.
After saying hello and a bit of catching up, I asked Mary Jane if she remembered the stove and when it was brought to the family house on Congress Street. Mary Jane is the oldest of the cousins, with fourteen or so years between her and I. She spent a good part of her childhood in my grandmother’s house, the only child living among several sets of aunts and uncles and other relatives who at different times found shelter in Yia Yia’s house.
Mary Jane said that she did, indeed, remember the stove. Our Uncle John bought it for the family when he secured a good job after returning from serving in World War II. He sent money home to Chicago for a new stove and a new furnace.
I can only imagine the joy and relief of my uncle returning safely from war, as well as the appreciation when the stove and the furnace arrived. The story warmed my heart as much as the stove must have warmed their meals and the furnace the entire building. In our family, as in many of yours, the kitchen and its stove represent the heart of family. I knew the stove from our suburban house Maywood, though, and needed to learn a bit of its history.
My cousin surmised that my mother, her Aunt Violet, took the picture. I supposed she took two or three, with one to mail to Uncle John.
I asked Mary Jane what kind of stove the new Tappan Gas Range replaced. Ah, a little chuckle preceded what I heard as I memory of her own. She said the old stove was a coal stove. When she started high school, she was the first one up in the morning. Her job was to start the stove. Oh, it was cold in the morning when she entered the kitchen. she vividly recalled. She would get the stove warming with coal from a nearby bucket, then dress for school. By the time she was dressed and ready, so was the stove, upon which she then made a cup of Hershey’s Cocoa, which she had with a slice of bread and butter.
While the old coal stove stayed evenly warm for a long time, the new gas range must have been a remarkable improvement for the women in my family, and for my cousin’s early morning routine. I was glad I called my cousin and appreciative that she took time talking with me, recalling those memories and family history.
We said our good-byes, then I found a cozy spot and looked anew the picture – and I thought about the first time I made cocoa on that same Tappan range.