Author's Corner

My Mother-in-Law's Kitchen

At first glance, I was struck by the variegated ambiance of my mother-in-law's kitchen. On the east wall stood a new (1946) electric range, and in the southwest corner, the old stove my mother-in-law favored for baking breads and cakes. Scarred pine drain boards crowded with mason jars, electrical appliances and draining dishes flanked the sink. Above, tall windows admitted north light and a view of rounded hills bearded with amber Mexican hay. In the center was an oak table big enough for gallons of peaches and plums cut up for compote; corn husks spread for a hundred tamales; a lug of ugerkes (cucumbers) for pickling, or a koldire (feather bed) for a sick child. Near the back door was the pantry where she stored beef and tongue in tall corning crocks with rock-secured lids, tin boxes of homemade sweets and jars of preserved fruits.

Boyle Heights & Beyond

Sentinel Avenue girls in front of our house: Judging by the size of the smallest, me, the year was 1927.Sentinel Avenue girls in front of our house: Judging by the size of the smallest, me, the year was 1927.When my mother was pregnant with me, her third child, she was immersed in the greatest adventure of her life, the construction of our family home. It was situated at 1043 Sentinel Avenue on a newly-subdivided street that ran (and still does) between Wabash and Ganahl at the newer northeast end of Boyle Heights. My mother had grown up over her father's clothing store in Saint Louis; my father, in a rundown, overcrowded courtyard in Brest L'Tovsk. For them building a house was a radical act of self-invention.

The 1625 square-foot Spanish Colonial - white stucco, red tile roof, wrought iron spears supporting a canvas awning - incorporated as much 1920s Los Angeles ambience as a twenty-six-year-old woman with ten thousand dollars to spend could muster. Picture crystal chandeliers in the living and dining rooms separated by folding glass doors; mode-of-the-moment built-ins: dining buffet, breakfast nook, storage cabinets, a tiled bathroom with tub and stall shower. Add a rear garden, baby pink roses, oleanders, poinsettias, fruit trees - lemon, avocado, fig, peach - and a 1924 Dodge in the driveway. It was the life they sought materialized - free of time-worn constraints, pleasure-loving, mobile, prosperous. When the high-flying Twenties descended into a twelve-year-long Depression, they clung to the house as if it were a life raft.