Last night I was laying in bed, starting to drift off to sleep, when a sound brought me slamming back into my body and consciousness. It was the hollow sound of my mother’s wooden cutting board hitting the counter top, similar to the claves we played in my elementary school music classes. It was familiar and immediate and sent me traveling through a slew of memories. I remembered being 8 years old and sitting on the brown corduroy living room couch, watching Inspector Gadget, as my mom made dinner in the kitchen. In those days the counter tops were tiled plainly, with just a few beautiful, handpainted tiles scattered among the white ones. I remembered being home from college, this time sitting on at the table in the kitchen, watching as she scrapped onions from the rectangular cutting board into the hot pan on the stove. I took the smell of the onions, and the garlic (scrapped out of the press, another distinctive sound) that followed into my dreams with me.
This cutting board is made of pale, blond wood with a perfect circle an inch in diameter cut in the middle of one of the shorter sides. The wood is both silky and porous, from years of chopping and scrubbing. It came into our lives when my father was sent out to buy a wedding present one Saturday morning more than twenty years ago, and came back with two cutting boards, one for the couple that was getting married, and one to keep. My mom was not happy, she didn’t think she needed a new cutting board, and she resented the additional expense. However, these days even she will admit that she has gotten her money’s worth out of it.
The cutting board now lives between the neck of the faucet and the splash guard, a translucent plastic scrub brush hung neatly on a nail beside it. My memory lapses at where it lives in prior kitchens, so frequently was it found in the dish drainer next to the sink, drying from it’s last use and wash. This Christmas, when I laid it down on the beige formica that is begging to be replaced (with the same musical tone that pulled me back from the brink of sleep last night) to chop an green pepper for a salad, I was stunned to realize how hollowed out it has gotten. I flipped it over, looking for a flatter surface, but years of exposure to the blades of knives has left the board sunken, like a model sucking in her cheeks. It is no longer possible to chop directly down and expect a clean cut. I pointed this out to my mom, and she laughed and said that she hadn’t really noticed. She has made hundreds of dinner with this cutting board and the 1940’s L.L. Bean fish-boning knife that was my father’s inheritance from his father. May she make many more.