Today my kitchen got its smile back.
I live in my grandmother's old house. It was built in the 40's by my grandmother's brother, before he took off for Queensland chasing racehorses and wild women. The slow combustion stove in the kitchen has always been the centre of the room, the centre of the house. When people come inside, out of the rain and cold on a day like today, the first thing they do is go to the fire, and stand warming their backs.
For five years, the stove has been boarded up, cold and silent, and the kitchen seemed lost without it. There was another, electric, stove for cooking, but it was in the room next door, which was irritating, to say the least.
The combination of encouragement from my friend Charlotte, and the arrival of an extraordinarily high electricity bill led me to the rebirth of the stove. Yesterday I pulled down the cardboard covering the fireplace, and Dad and I worked with wire brushes and elbow grease to bring the stove back to useable condition.
This morning we lit the first fire in the stove, and I watched the kitchen seem to join into a circle again. It seemed again a room with a purpose. I baked a cake to mark the 'second coming' of the stove. It was a packet cake, which my grandmother would have disapproved of, believing that they were inherantly inferior to proper home made cakes, but it was a cake nonetheless.
My grandmother, who most people called Nan, was a big part of my life. From her I learned the stories of my family. How my great grandfather and his brother turned the river back into its bed after a flood with horses and scoops. How my great great uncle learned his wife was having an affair when he returned from droving and found another man's shirts in his cupboard. How when she was a child, they had to cross the river 13 times in the journey to the nearest large town.
I spent hours in this kitchen as a child. Always there was the kettle on the side of the stove, simmering ready to make a pot of tea. Sometimes, there was a pot of soup, made with beef bones, carrot, celery and barley. At Christmas, there would be the stubbornly traditional turkey roasting, heating up the kitchen to a point where tempers would fray and homemade orange and grapefruit cordial with ice would be dispensed to all present like medicine in an epidemic.
In the last couple of days, I have discovered that the best way for me to conquer heartache is with hard work. Chopping wood, scrubbing, shovelling: all the aching of the long unused muscles of my arms and back has distracted me from the hole in my chest.
Perhaps all I can do at this point is move in the direction of my dreams, and use the callouses on my hands as mile markers along that road.