Painting and Prose by Janet Whittle Freedman

Kent Island: The Land That Once was Eden

Excerpt 2

My grandmother’s house sat on a low rise, it’s narrow lane of sand and oyster shell curving gently past the barn,ending abruptly in the front yard. It was surrounded by a wide green lawn, several outbuildings and a riotous abundance of trees and shrubs. The incessant trip at last at an end, I burst from the car like a racehorse from the gate, rushing to the waiting arms of my grandmother. I knew, and had always known that though I was perfect nowhere else, for this woman I was entirely so. She was perfect for me as well, as was this place. Beyond the cool shade of her porch, draped in the white light of a blinding summer sun, the farm, the woods, the marsh and creek shore beckoned in shimmering splendor.

Parents, being practical creatures, who somehow remain curiously untouched by the magic in their surroundings, insist that the car be unloaded immediately. I am assigned the smaller bags and packages and am soon trekking from the car to the house with my little bundles. No matter. I would have made a room-by-room pilgrimage anyway, delighting in the familiar, assuring myself that there had been no drastic changes in my absence. The house was like a favored, multi-patterned quilt, each detail known, yet every nuance a new found delight. I knew the look of it, the feel of it, the sounds and smells of it; it belonged as much to me as it had ever belonged to anyone.

The house was of frame construction and built linearly in three sections, the first being a deep porch entered by a screened side door. The porch itself is solidly walled to hip height and screened upward to the eaves; and because it boasts an almost constant breeze and a pleasant view, it serves as both parlor and dining room for most of the year, abandoned only when winter’s chill finally drove us indoors. The floor was covered in several linoleum patterns, the predominant one of dark blue scattered with a pattern of gaudy peach cabbage roses. In the center of the house wall, a door led to the kitchen and was flanked on one side by a large white icebox and a wringer washer draped in oilcloth; on the other by a medicine cabinet, a mirror and a porcelain sink set in a wooden frame.

In the center of the room was a claw-footed dining table (for which my grandmother seemed to possess an endless supply of extension leaves), and lining the walls were various benches and oaken chairs to be drawn up to the table at mealtime. And what meals that table held! The generosity of sea, orchard and garden arrived at that oilcloth covered expanse, each one in its season…platters of fish and eel, briny oysters; crab cakes, abundant with lump backfin, spicy and fried golden brown; fat ripe tomatoes fragrantly warm from the garden, steaming ears of sweet corn, paper thin cucumber slices in a tangy onion-studded vinaigrette, peas with dumplings, biscuits and blackberry rolls, strawberry cakes and lemon meringue pies. I remember it as well, covered in layers of newspaper and piled high with steaming blue crabs, turned bright orange from the cooking, crusted with pepper and fragrant with spices, the best of the Chesapeake’s feasts.

The kitchen was bright and cheerful with wainscoting and chair rail, and a table and chairs enameled a rich Dutch blue. A built-in corner cupboard lined with flowered shelf paper displayed dishes and platters of varying color and design, including many in the blue willow pattern. It was a sunny room owing to two large windows and was equipped with a large woodstove, a gas range, a small refrigerator, a sink with a hand-pump, a treadle sewing machine and several freestanding cupboards. A small closet tucked under the attic stairs held pots and pans and a wooden caddy crafted by my grandfather for the storage of silverware.