Artist Statement

When I think of my mother, I think of the kitchen sink. 

Sometime in the 1970’s, I remember having an argument with my mother while I stood at the kitchen sink. I had a butcher knife in my hand, something she said pissed me off and in a show of teenage rebellion, I chopped at the edge of the kitchen counter just in front of the sink, making a small dark chip. Back then, laminate had a dark brown core resulting in a thin outline running all along the edge of the countertop. The top itself was pale baby blue, irreversibly scarred by an ornery teenager. In a single chop, I had just ruined 1960’s perfection. 

Some scars stay with you. 

Thirty nine years later, we found the house on Craigslist. 

It had 3 bedrooms and a yard with orange trees. There was a laundry room. The kitchen came with a dishwasher, a sink with a garbage disposal and a gas stove. There was a big living room complete with a gas fireplace. Moving from a loft in Downtown Los Angeles to a house in Altadena was a big cultural change. My husband and I had both lived in the urban core of various cities for over 30 years. We weren't sure we could handle the quiet.

Shortly after we signed the lease on the house, my mother found herself facing the prospect of moving. San Francisco had turned into a precarious city, most especially for seniors. Leaving the city would mean losing her job and entering full retirement on a very small fixed income. It was clear she would need to move in with us. 

My mother thought she would miss San Francisco so the first surprise was that she really liked beautiful Altadena. Our family of three settled into a routine, all of us enjoying our new life on the hill. It turned out we loved quiet.

My husband and I would occasionally take a little road trip. We were on one through the mountain states when the call came in that my mother was in the hospital. We raced home from Boise, Idaho to Los Angeles, California.

Just the week prior, my mother had complained of stomach pain to her primary care physician. Tests and X-rays turned up blank. Within a week, the pain had intensified to the point where she asked our neighbor in the cottage behind us to take her to the ER. More tests, X-rays, cat scans and MRIs identified a mass in her gallbladder which biopsies finally showed to be cancer. She started chemotherapy almost immediately.

Within quick succession, we met with her medical team, consulted with a doctor on medical marijuana, found a reliable dispensary, met with the local mortuary, updated her will and powers of attorney, and notified close friends and family about what was happening. 

The side effects of chemotherapy were brutal with more visits to the ER. She lost 5 pounds a week, quickly dropping 20 pounds in the first month. She needed more calories, which meant she needed an appetite - made a bit easier with cannabis (thank you Kushy Punch.) When she got the munchies, we jumped on the opportunity no matter how strange the request (pickles and liverwurst, donuts and peanut butter, ice cream and meatballs…) 

In caring for my mother, my life became tied to the kitchen. I reached for my phone, and started taking photos. 

What I discovered is this: for better or worse, family live in a home, and the true heart of a home is the kitchen, and at the center of that kitchen is the sink.

About the photographs

All of the digital images were shot with the HTC Desire Eye. The images have not been manipulated.

More work by Susan Bolles

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