Mad In Pursuit Notebook

kitchen gods

Lares Et Penates: the Kitchen Gods

4.28.2013. It must have been in high school that I picked up the Latin phrase lares et penates. In ancient Roman society, they were the household gods, gathered into a family shrine near the hearth. The lar was a protective diety, who was invited to meals and other family events. Di penates were similar localized dieties, who guarded the household's food, wine, oil and other supplies. When a family had a meal, they would throw a bit into the fire for the penates. When a family moved, they were careful to transport the lares et penates with them. This concept stuck with me. What spirits should be part of our dwelling... not the big universal ones like Jesus, but more like our own patron saints or guardian angels?

Yesterday I spoke of Pat and Joe's legion of stuffed animals. Today I took a photo of our own assortment of "kitchen gods," who observe our lives from atop the refrigerator.

Gunther, Russell and Maurice came first, some time in the 1980s.

Russell (monkey on the right) showed up in an Easter basket and has the largest ego in the household, requiring the fanciest throne and a fine headdress. Poor Gunther -- a Gund bear (left) found in the lane -- is a little sweeter but gets swept up in Russell's plots to get the highest spot and the best treats. You might note that Gunther's grandmother (to his left above) arrived at some point to make sure he behaves himself. Gunther is wearing a cross and an "I Voted Today" sticker.

Maurice (the rubbery fellow with the big teeth) also showed up at Easter. He came with an antique postcard signed "Maurice," so we assumed that was his name. Hermanita the parrot got hold of him and bit his butt off so he can't sit up on his own anymore. We have always taken pity on him due to his handicap and indulged his need to, say, hang on to the crocodile's tail.

Then came the little bride and groom troll dolls. Deb G. found those for us when we got married in 1993. They used to wander a little and fall over now and then -- bad omens -- but then we used some museum putty to secure them to the back of the African divination croc. They are very strong now! (You can decide what to make of Maurice having a chomp on the croc's tail.)

The colorful wooden animals were carved in Oaxaca, Mexico, mostly by the Melchior family. They've never been named or individualized -- they are just a herd of fanciful critters for our general delight. And they do stick close to the large lacquer Buddha, who looks upon the whole scene as a reminder (especially to Russell) to keep our egos in check. I guess the same could be said for the Russian icons of Jesus and Our Lady of Perpetual Help on the wall to the right.

Gunther is not saying who that little bear is, sitting on the Buddha's lap and wearing a Habitat for Humanity medal.

We used to have a larger menagerie of characters, but when we remodeled the kitchen only the strongest personalities got to remain. And so it goes with our kitchen gods.

AN ASIDE: the private charms

fasting Buddha

Until I began reorganizing living spaces for efficiency and convenience, my whimsical collector Jim would often place things for their symbolic impact. I didn't always get it. And even for Jim, the symbolism was occasionally unconscious.

When Jim was wasting away from undiagnosed liver disease in 2002, he kept this small figure of the Fasting Buddha on the table next to his chair. It wasn't till he was on the road to recovery that it suddenly rang a bell with me and I removed it to a distant shelf.

Chinese sage

Soon this little fellow above appeared in its place -- a small Chinese sage, carved in ivory. "We talk," Jim said.