There was a time before kitchens had mood lighting and islands with tall stool seats and appliances with digital readouts. The kitchen was the nexus of family life where everyone gathered for a sit-down breakfast together. A table model radio had its place against the wall. An overhead light provided all the illumination needed in the pre-dawn hours before the sun poured in through the large window above the sink. Maybe an ashtray accented the oilcloth table cover. Hunter Green dominated such rooms in those ’50s and ’60s era styles.
Our kitchen in that old Oakland house holds fond memories my father and his father when we’d sit together at the table when grandpa came to visit. Grandparents all need a title other than their first name for the children to use. Sometimes it is formed as Grandma Ginger, as my own mother preferred to be called many decades later when she reached that status in her 60’s. My father’s mother was simply Grandma Carlson and she left this world back around 1956. My paternal grandfather was dubbed Bucca, presumably by my eldest cousin. We discerned its etymology to be related to the name of the farm from where Bucca’s Swedish relatives originated: “Buca Etra” although the actual spelling is lost to me. Just why my cousin started saying that name is likewise lost to the generations.
Bucca was an old Swede who was more familiar with the lore of his ancestral homeland than anyone else of the family lineage. On his visits the three generations of Carlson males had a tradition of sitting at that kitchen table and talking over the current day’s news, family memories, Cribbage and a fair amount of singing. He had an M. Hohner readily at hand and my father, his guitar. I loved hearing the songs, some of which I understood the words of while others only the sounds they made in my ears.
Long lazy afternoons were spent playing three-hand Cribbage scored on the peg-board that has a few pegs missing and were substituted with wooden matches. As the mood would strike him, he’d pick up the harmonica and blow out another haunting tune. I’m sure many such utterances were adlibbed and spontaneous. They just sounded great even as the sound now echoes in my mind.
He arrived for a visit and I was not shy about inquiring about the harmonica and the sound that soon would fill the house. On that day, he had not brought the essential item and I was upset. Bucca graciously turned away and said he’d be back soon. He drove back to Swissvale and retrieved the M. Hohner Old Standby so we could have the traditional time during that long ago day. The details of how all that day transpired is not in my recollection but what is there is the memory of the feelings of family and warmth in the Hunter Green kitchen that now only exist on the edge of my dreams.
While handling the Old Standby as I penned this story, a lump formed in my throat when I blew a chord through the reeds that had once felt the breath of Bucca and my dad.