A chapter from Christopher Nyerges’ book about growing up in Pasadena
[Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. All of his book are about self-reliance and wild foods and none of them are about witches. He can be reached at School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
When I was 3 or 4 – I don’t recall the exact age except that I wasn’t in kindergarten yet – I recall waking up in the early morning and hearing sounds in the kitchen. These were the sounds of movement, of pans moving, of doors opening and closing, the normal sounds you’d expect to hear in the morning in a kitchen. But the only reason I heard any sounds so early was that everyone else was asleep and the house of five boys was relatively quiet.
I recall lying there on the lower bunk of a bunkbed, wondering what I was hearing, and who was making the noises. After some time, I had the realization that we had some witches in the kitchen. They came at night after everyone went to sleep and did whatever witches do in the kitchen. They’d disappear by the time everyone woke up and crawled out of our beds and fought our way to the bathroom and then made our way to the kitchen to have cereal or whatever my mother might be cooking.
When I heard witches in the kitchen in the early morning, I was always cautious when I came to breakfast. I’d look around for clues, something left on the counter, something out of place, some object forgotten. There were many clues, but none of them that would conclusively prove that witches had been in the kitchen during the night.
Sometimes I would ask questions to a brother or my mother, attempting to determine if they knew about it too. But my roundabout questions were too indirect to get meaningful responses, and if anyone else knew about the witches, they weren’t talking. I began to regard this as a very natural thing – witches in the kitchen – and barely brought it up anymore.
I could even “see” the witches in my mind’s eye when I heard them in the early morning. They were very traditional-looking witches, with large black robes or gowns, black pointy hats, though I don’t recall seeing any facial features or indication of pretty or ugly, or young or old. I knew they were female. They moved about like gliding from place to place, doing secret magic alchemy with the ingredients in the kitchen and the fire on the stove. I could mentally see that the kitchen noises came from them taking pots out of the cupboard, running water, the moving from place to place, the stirring of things in pots on the stove. If they spoke at all, they whispered. I pictured them doing their early morning tasks knowingly, without the need to converse among themselves. I pictured them expressionless, if I saw their faces at all.
Off and on for a year or so, I would hear them in the kitchen. I believed that my dad knew about them. Some of the “clues” to their presence would be cupboard doors left ajar, spilled salt or sugar on the table, odd smells – nothing that was absolute proof in itself, but all together I knew it added up to the mysterious mornings in the alchemical chamber of our house. In a way, I was excited about this secret side of our house, and I wondered if everyone had witches in the kitchen.
One day, my dad fixed my cereal and put in two spoons of white sugar. I didn’t stir it so the white sugar remained at the bottom of the bowl until I was nearly done eating. When I got to the bottom, though I liked the sweetness, I made a point of telling my dad how much sugar he put in the bowl.
“Look at all the sugar,” I said. At first, it was no big deal, but somehow I knew that the extra sugar was my dad’s secret way of telling me that he knew about the witches. So I repeated to him how much sugar was in my bowl, what an amazing thing. But then my mother walked into the room and said “What?”
“I just gave him a spoonful,” said my father defensively.
“Why did you give him so much sugar?” my mother said. I don’t think she knew about the witches. And, as was her custom, she kept asking about the sugar and talking about it until they were both nearly in an argument about it. I felt bad about this because I actually liked the extra sugar and was trying in my way to acknowledge the secret message about my father’s knowing there were witches in the kitchen.
I never received any more secret clues from my dad to tell me that he knew about the witches, and he never again gave me extra sugar.
Sometime later, while sleeping in the lower bunk and with eyes closed, I felt something touch me, and I knew it was one of the witches. She’d actually came all the way into my room and touched me – not with her finger, but with a stick, or magic wand. Just a light touch, and I could see her clearly – the same black outfit and hat as they always wore, and this time I could see her face. She was middle-aged, some wrinkles, smiling, resembling one of the nuns at Saint Elizabeth school. I opened my eyes startled, and she had managed to disappear before I could catch an open-eyed glimpse.
Maybe it had been a goodbye touch, since I never heard their eerie sounds in the kitchen after that. Each time I thought it was them, I listened carefully and could tell that it was my mother or father or my brother or someone else. For whatever reason, they returned to Witchland and never returned.