This story is included in my book, Exploding Hushpuppies - More stories from home.
We can thank the “color-ologists” at Pantone for giving us a new reason to look forward to January. At the beginning of every year, they’ve announced their official, “Color of the Year.” It’s a very big deal for decorators and designers, and much to my husband’s fear, always makes me contemplate repainting a room or two.
The color experts provide deep psychological reasons for their choice and it always has something to do with making us feel peaceful, safe, happy and loved, so to Southerners, our minds will naturally wind their way back to the colors of a kitchen we’ve loved.
Food is an important part of our culture, so our memories of living rooms, bedrooms and patios can fade, but even if it’s been several decades since we were last there, we can still identify the exact pattern and shade of the curtains, dishes, countertops and walls of a kitchen where we were warm, well-fed and safe.
People may first remember how ugly the harvest gold appliances were, but soon, they’ll come around to telling you about how they loved sitting at the mid-century atomic patterned Formica counter while granny made biscuits and pulled turquoise Fiesta Ware out of the canary yellow cabinets.
My sorority sister, Verbie Jo, laughs about her great aunt’s pink kitchen with poodle dishtowels, yet every time she passes through an antique store, searches for pink Pyrex for her own collection.
Our food is legendary and the kitchens where it was prepared hold memories more colorful and detailed than any company mandated paint swatch. This year’s passing trend will soon be forgotten, yet the color of our great-granny’s kitchen step stool we stood on to help stir the stew will stick with us until we die.
My favorite color has been orange for a long while now (maybe because of the Brady Bunch kitchen?), but my love of green probably started in my grandmother’s kitchen. With innovative flip-out cabinet space to hold dry goods, the floors were a Kelly green and white checkerboard pattern. When I see a similar floor now, I instantly break into a smile and crave tea cakes which were always in a cookie jar on the counter.
The warm aroma of a yellow butter cake, licking a chocolate coated spoon shiny clean, and a silver pot bubbling with eggs yet to be deviled, all came from grandmother’s green kitchen that was small, yet somehow held her along with four daughters, reaching, flipping, chopping and shooing children out of the way.
Linoleum patterns, chair cushions and tablecloths edged in hand-embroidered daisies are seared into our minds and produce far more of a psychological response of peace, safety and happiness than any commercial paint swatch chosen for us (by a company based in NJ, by the way — “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” said my NJ husband).
Not only the heart of the home, the kitchen was a place that is held deep within our real hearts. Our memories of colors, smells, tastes and sounds can be as sharp as if we were just sitting there yesterday.
Pantone feeds our need for something new, but we only need to close our eyes to be nourished in the colors and patterns of a kitchen we’ve loved, even if it’s harvest gold, orange or pink poodle paradise.
This story first appeared on AL.com and in the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.