When next you are in our Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C., be sure to visit the Museum of American History. They have put back on display Julia Child’s kitchen. Not a model or facsimile, but her real kitchen: refrigerator, cupboards, stove, butcher block, curtains, pots, pans and gadgets.
I loved Julia’s kitchen from the first time I saw it, when the Smithsonian asked Julia to donate it from her Massachusetts home. I peered in trying to figure out the secret to Julia Child. The cupboards are a pretty blue with a little green mixed in. Behind the sink are windows overlooking a side yard. In the center is a family table with four chairs. The refrigerator has magnets on it. I guess what I am saying is, it’s pretty normal. No appliance is huge or remarkable. She didn’t have enough counter space. What she did do, then, was put up that old pegboard with holes, like old men put on their garage walls to keep their tools at hand. You insert metal brackets that hold handles with holes in them, or cradle a hammer head. Julia’s pegboard covers two walls and a little more, is painted the same blue-green, and has traced outlines of each pot or pan or tool showing where their home is. From all the beautiful copper bottomed saucepans to the dark seasoned cornbread pan to bake mini loaves shaped like little ears of corn.
And in her drawers is her remarkable collection of gadgety tools. She loved the citrus peelers, oven rack pullers, garlic smashers, olive draining spoons, whisks the perfect sizes for every food item that can be whisked.
But… are you getting the gist? It’s really quite an ordinary kitchen. Filled with good tools by an artist who knew what was what. But it’s only a special kitchen because of the work that happened there.
It reminds me of when I visited the home of a teacher I admired, and saw her work-space. Martha was in her last year before retirement. A wise and beloved first grade teacher, we- her last class- had made a sweet animal quilt for her. We delivered it to her home. I don’t know how we ended up in her bedroom closet, but we did. Because that’s where she worked. She had recently written her Master’s thesis there. It was not even a walk-in closet, just a long-ish space under the eaves. On the left was the long pole with all her and her husband’s clothes hanging down. On the right was a desk made of a door on two-drawer files. On that was the usual child-made clay pot pencil holder thingys and decorating the wall behind it were origami gifts and little favorite bits of first grade writing she had kept. And a good lamp; kind of necessary when you are working in a closet.
I hope you have learned what I have learned, from our friends Julia and Martha. Just do it. Before Nike adopted the slogan, people have been getting their work done wherever they had to work. Garage bands, homeless children doing homework in the library, prisoner of war artists behind their barrack curtain. Julia making history happily in her Massachusetts kitchen. My friend Martha writing in her bedroom closet. How can we not follow their example and just get on with our work?