Sentence Combining #9: Alfred Kazin's Kitchen in Brownsville

Combining Sentences and Building a Descriptive Paragraph

A Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin. (Harvest Books, 1969)

This sentence-combining exercise has been adapted from "The Kitchen," an excerpt from Alfred Kazin's memoir A Walker in the City (published in 1951 and reprinted by Harvest Books in 1969).

In "The Kitchen," Kazin recalls his childhood in Brownsville, a Brooklyn neighborhood which in the 1920s had a largely Jewish population. His focus is on the room in which his mother spent much of her time working on the sewing she took in to make extra money.

To get a feel for Kazin's descriptive style, begin by reading the opening paragraph of the selection, reprinted below.

Next, reconstruct paragraph two by combining the sentences in each of the 13 sets that follow. Several of the sets--though not all--require coordination of words, phrases, and clauses. If you run into any problems, you may find it helpful to review our Introduction to Sentence Combining.

As with any sentence-combining exercise, feel free to combine sets (to create a longer sentence) or to make two or more sentences out of one set (to create shorter sentences). You may rearrange the sentences in any fashion that strikes you as appropriate and effective. Note that there are two unusually long sets in this exercise, #8 and #10. In the original paragraph, both sentences are structured as lists. If you favor shorter sentences, you may choose to separate the items in either (or both) of these lists.

After completing the exercise, compare your paragraph with Kazin's original on page two. But keep in mind that many combinations are possible.

The Kitchen*

In Brownsville tenements the kitchen is always the largest room and the center of the household. As a child I felt that we lived in a kitchen to which four other rooms were annexed.

My mother, a "home" dressmaker, had her workshop in the kitchen. She told me once that she had begun dressmaking in Poland at thirteen; as far back as I can remember, she was always making dresses for the local women. She had an innate sense of design, a quick eye for all the subtleties in the latest fashions, even when she despised them, and great boldness. For three or four dollars she would study the fashion magazines with a customer, go with the customer to the remnants store on Belmont Avenue to pick out the material, argue the owner down--all remnants stores, for some reason, were supposed to be shady, as if the owners dealt in stolen goods--and then for days would patiently fit and baste and sew and fit again. Our apartment was always full of women in their housedresses sitting around the kitchen table waiting for a fitting. My little bedroom next to the kitchen was the fitting room. The sewing machine, an old nut-brown Singer with golden scrolls painted along the black arm and engraved along the two tiers of little drawers massed with needles and thread on each side of the treadle, stood next to the window and the great coal-black stove which up to my last year in college was our main source of heat.

By December the two outer bed-rooms were closed off, and used to chill bottles of milk and cream, cold borscht, and jellied calves' feet.

Paragraph Two

 

  1. The kitchen held our lives together.

     
  2. My mother worked in it.
    She worked all day long.
    We ate almost all meals in it.
    We did not have the Passover seder in there.
    I did my homework at the kitchen table.
    I did my first writing there.
    I often had a bed made up for me in winter.
    The bed was on three kitchen chairs.
    The chairs were near the stove.

     
  3. A mirror hung on the wall.
    The mirror hung just over the table.
    The mirror was long.
    The mirror was horizontal.
    The mirror sloped to a ship's prow at each end.
    The mirror was lined in cherry wood.

     
  4. It took the whole wall.
    It drew every object in the kitchen to itself.

     
  5. The walls were a whitewash.
    The whitewash was fiercely stippled.
    My father often rewhitened it.
    He did this in slack seasons.
    He did this so often that the paint looked as if it had been squeezed and cracked into the walls.

     
  1. There was an electric bulb.
    It was large.
    It hung down at the end of a chain.
    The chain had been hooked into the ceiling.
    The old gas ring and key still jutted out of the wall like antlers.

     
  2. The sink was in the corner.
    The sink was next to the toilet.
    We washed at the sink.
    The tub was also in the corner.
    My mother did our clothes in the tub.

     
  3. There were many things above the tub.
    These things were tacked to a shelf.
    Sugar and spice jars were ranged on the shelf.
    The jars were white.
    The jars were square.
    The jars had blue borders.
    The jars were ranged pleasantly.
    Calendars hung there.
    They were from the Public National Bank on Pitkin Avenue.
    They were from the Minsker Branch of the Workman's Circle.
    Receipts were there.
    The receipts were for the payment of insurance premiums.
    Household bills were there.
    The bills were on a spindle.
    Two little boxes were there.
    The boxes were engraved with Hebrew letters.

     
  4. One of the boxes was for the poor.
    The other was to buy back the Land of Israel.

     
  5. A little man would appear.
    The man had a beard.
    He appeared every spring.
    He appeared in our kitchen.
    He would salute with a Hebrew blessing.
    The blessing was hurried.
    He would empty the boxes.
    Sometimes he would do this with a sideways look of disdain.
    He would do this if the boxes were not full.
    He would bless us again hurriedly.
    He would bless us for remembering our Jewish brothers and sisters.
    Our brothers and sisters were less fortunate.
    He would take his departure until the next spring.
    He would try to persuade my mother to take still another box.
    He tried in vain.

     
  6. We dropped coins in the boxes.
    Occasionally we remembered to do this.
    Usually we did this on the morning of "mid-terms" and final examinations.
    My mother thought it would bring me luck.

     
  7. She was extremely superstitious.
    She was embarrassed about it.
    She counseled me to leave the house on my right foot.
    She did this on the morning of an examination.
    She always laughed at herself whenever she did this.

     
  8. "I know it's silly, but what harm can it do? It may calm God down."
    Her smile seemed to say this.

    After completing the exercise, compare your paragraph with Kazin's original on page two.

    This paragraph served as the basis for the sentence-combining exercise on page one.

    Paragraph Two of "The Kitchen"*

    by Alfred Kazin

    The kitchen held our lives together. My mother worked in it all day long, we ate in it almost all meals except the Passover seder, I did my homework and first writing at the kitchen table, and in winter I often had a bed made up for me on three kitchen chairs near the stove.

    On the wall just over the table hung a long horizontal mirror that sloped to a ship's prow at each end and was lined in cherry wood. It took up the whole wall, and drew every object in the kitchen to itself. The walls were a fiercely stippled whitewash, so often rewhitened by my father in slack seasons that the paint looked as if it had been squeezed and cracked into the walls. A large electric bulb hung down the center of the kitchen at the end of a chain that had been hooked into the ceiling; the old gas ring and key still jutted out of the wall like antlers. In the corner next to the toilet was the sink at which we washed, and the square tub in which my mother did our clothes. Above it, tacked to the shelf on which were pleasantly ranged square, blue-bordered white sugar and spice jars, hung calendars from the Public National Bank on Pitkin Avenue and the Minsker Progressive Branch of the Workmen's Circle; receipts for the payment of insurance premiums, and household bills on a spindle; two little boxes engraved with Hebrew letters.

    One of these was for the poor, the other to buy back the Land of Israel. Each spring a bearded little man would suddenly appear in our kitchen, salute us with a hurried Hebrew blessing, empty the boxes (sometimes with a sidelong look of disdain if they were not full), hurriedly bless us again for remembering our less fortunate Jewish brothers and sisters, and so take his departure until the next spring, after vainly trying to persuade my mother to take still another box.

    We did occasionally remember to drop coins in the boxes, but this was usually only on the dreaded morning of "midterms" and final examinations, because my mother thought it would bring me luck. She was extremely superstitious, but embarrassed about it, and always laughed at herself whenever, on the morning of an examination, she counseled me to leave the house on my right foot. "I know it's silly," her smile seemed to say, "but what harm can it do? It may calm God down."

    *From Alfred Kazin's memoir A Walker in the City, originally published in 1951 and reprinted by Harvest Books in 1969.