Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Acrylic on canvas board
24 x 30 in.
"We had two rooms: a kitchen and a bedroom that also served as a formal living and dining room. The kitchen window looked out onto the courtyard, and the bedroom window overlooked Narrow Street. Our dwelling was on the south side of the courtyard. You entered our dwelling from the courtyard, through a little wooden vestibule; a door from the vestibule opened to the kitchen.
All the action was in the kitchen: it was the hub of the house. By average standards, our kitchen was spacious. Near the only window in the kitchen was a table, with a bench in front and chair at the end. The corner chair was the most desirable, because one could sit and observe the comings and goings in the courtyard. Every day, when we came home from school for lunch, the four of us boys stormed into the kitchen like a stampede of horses. Everybody tried to get to that corner. Whoever was first got it. Believe me, many a fight broke out over that spot.
On the kitchen wall was di rame, the frame on which we placed the plates and hung the cups. Below it was the vashbank, where we did the dishes. We kept a basin and bucket of water on the vashbank. The vashbank was a little lower than a table. I remember that my mother would bend over to wash the dishes. Under the vashbank was a cupboard for all the pots and pans and extra dishes. In the opposite corner of the room was the barrel where we kept drinking water, a wrought-iron wash stand, a basin that fitted into the washstand, soap, and a ewer.
My bed was in the corner of the kitchen. The wall beside my bed would drip with moisture in the winter. Our dwelling was made of solid brick. There was no insulation: the outer wall was the same as the inner wall, and in winter that wall got cold. The cooking and the heating of water for washing created a lot of warm air. Upon hitting the cold wall, the warm air condensed and beads of moisture would run down the wall. That dampness was called wilgoc in Polish. To prevent me from touching the wet wall, we placed a mat made of bulrush stalks--they were hollow reeds--against the wall, from the floor to about two feet above the cot. That helped somewhat. In the summer, the wall dried out. Under my bed was the plumbing, a chamber pot."