Calico Cat, Grilled Cheese and Shirli’s Kitchen

A few simple words can conjure up a memory so vivid, it seems you are viewing a movie of the experience complete with sound, color, scent, light and shadow.

The core of this particular memory: a raisin bread grilled cheese sandwich. The cast: Shirli, possibly the world’s best mother-in-law, who made me at least one once and, yes, it was good; Eco, the cat; yours truly. The scene: Shirli’s kitchen.

This was the kitchen of someone who recognized that people gather right there. In the kitchen. So, why not have places for them to perch? There were three stools in this kitchen that I remember, but the one I see most vividly had a deep red leather seat. The leather was thick and formed a firm slightly concave seat affixed between wood shaped like the flared roof of a single-tiered pagoda. This particular chair was often occupied by Eco, the Tallulah Bankhead of cats. She was a lavish long-hair calico with bent tail. Eco had a peculiarity–what cat does not? She would ofttimes stretch her neck out over one of the “pagoda” corners, bear down and make little choking sounds. I think she may have been lobbying for canned green or yellow wax beans which were a particular treat to her.

There were always books in this kitchen which had a wonderful chalet-angled window that seemed to pull in light even on a gray and rainy day. I also remember this being the warmest room of the house in multiple senses of the word. Of course, I’m sure in summer the upstairs bedrooms had the highest temperature.

I remember walking in one afternoon. Klee was not around. Shirli was on her stool in a corner near the window, a book in one hand and she was setting down a sandwich she had just taken a bite out of. We probably talked about the books we were reading, or an installation for the next show at the Bellevue Art Museum or maybe the Pacific NW Arts and Crafts Fair or our most recent interesting dreams. I may have said something about something smelling good, I’m not sure but somehow she knew I’d not yet had lunch. She took another bite of her sandwich, put her book down (yes, she often spoke while still holding onto a book–at least that is how I remember it anyway), and proceeded to make me a sandwich I had never experienced: a grilled cheese sandwich made with raisin bread. It was fabulous! That was many, many, MANY years ago and I’d somehow forgotten about raisin bread grilled cheese sandwiches, until a few days ago.

Klee and I were sitting on our back porch eating grilled cheese sandwiches on whole wheat sourdough. I said something about being glad we finally had some sourdough because it was so perfect for grilled cheese. We then discussed that, really though, grilled cheese sandwiches are good on just about any bread. Then Klee posed the thought, “Well maybe not raisin bread…” To which I instantly, mouth still full, proclaimed “Not true!” That one comment brought back the entire experience that day. After finishing chewing and swallowing I continued, “Not true! Your mom made me a grilled cheese sandwich on raisin bread and it was DELICIOUS!” Klee chuckled appreciatively and with great admiration said “My mom…”

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