Tunnel back in time with me, somewhere around 1970 or thereabouts. I am 6 years old, recently introduced to the impossible world of pleasing other people. It was still the unselfconscious time of sticking my belly out in my two piece polka-dotted bathing suit, still the time of eating when I was hungry and wandering around the neighborhood with red stains from a cherry popsicle all over my mouth. It was before my body was wrong, before I started to hide food, before it all went so very wrong. By that definition, it was a magical time.
In my childhood kitchen, there was no pantry. There was a mop and broom closet at the top of the stairs to the basement. There was a three level lazy Susan in each corner of the kitchen, flanking the sink. It was in these cupboards that my mother stored all of her dry goods and spices and extracts, vinegars and sauces. It was her double barreled circular pantry system and it was good enough for me. Just lately, I have moved to a house with a pantry, with a door and realized what I was missing out on my entire childhood.
These two lazy Susans (and where in the world did that name originate? Why not lazy Barbaras, Joans or Antoinettes? And why was Susan so lazy? The possibilities are endless.) became the stage upon which I crafted and played out the stories living rent-free in my head. Now, I am not going to tell you that these creations sprang full formed from my mind like Venus on her clam shell. I was an early and voracious reader and many of my stories were thinly veiled reboots of classic tales. My favorite stories were typically orphan- centered ones like \”A Little Princess\” and \”The Secret Garden\” and \”Peter Pan\”. Each had as the protagonist someone who had to face the odds ALONE every day of their lives. What a hero. (or more often, heroine)
Let me hasten to add: I had plenty of toys including dolls and dollhouses, Fisher Price play sets of houses and neighborhoods. I had bookshelves overflowing with books of every shape, size and color. I went to the library constantly, so much so that my mother used to joke that my late book fines financed the construction of a new library building. So this choice of mine about how to play and what to play with may not make sense in light of all of those riches.
I would carefully open the lazy Susan on the right of the kitchen and survey my resources. Since my mom never threw anything away, her aged spices were in both cardboard boxes, rectangular tins and bottles. Each of the rectangles would become a part of a wall or a piece of furniture. The bottles of extracts (vanilla, coconut, hazelnut, lemon…) became people ( or creatures). I might spend an hour or two simply setting up, before I even began the story. But the story, oh the story. That was the best part.
Perhaps Miss Vanilla was carrying on a torrid romance with Mr. Coconut. They were meeting secretly behind the baking soda to plan their escape. But they were being thwarted by Italian Seasoning, who spied on them and reported back to the other residents of Lazy Susan Manor. Of course, I had to suspend the adventure any time anyone came into the kitchen. I was too self-conscious to carry on in front of an audience so I would go silent and pretend that I was simply organizing food for my mother. I imagine that after I got done doing that, she had a very difficult time locating anything that she needed for actual cooking, though I do not remember her being an especially creative cook. Certainly not one who used tarragon or saffron in anything. So my furniture arrangement was usually safe for awhile.
This pastime came back to mind when I was reading Shonda Rhimes\’ book \”The Year of Yes\” and she described a similar pastime of weaving tales in her family pantry closet…with the door shut. That the stories she created in that time and place were the seedlings of stories that became \”Grey\’s Anatomy\” \” Scandal\” , \”How to Get Away With Murder\”- and most recently \”Bridgerton\” –all enormous successes by any measure.
So if that habit of hers is a precursor to becoming a successful writer, then I am on the right track.
In the midst of a great story,