This is chapter 11 in a series entitled Telling My Story.
As detailed in Chapter 10 (Moving Onward, but Not Upward) our moving van was stolen and we had lost everything we owned, and thus had to stay with my mother-in-law for a few months while we tried to accumulate the basics to re-establish a household of our own.
My mother-in-law, Lucy, (I can use her real name because she has long since gone on to her reward) was a funny little woman. She didn't mean to be. In fact, she often took the oddest things so seriously that I could not quite figure out what was going on.
For example, she loved reading the almanac, and knowing exactly when sunset was going to be each evening. You know, 5:52 p.m. today, 5:54 p.m. tomorrow, etc. I am not sure why this statistic was important to her, but she always liked watching the paranormal soap opera of the day, Dark Shadows, so maybe that had something to do with it.
She loved to cook, which worked out well for me while we were there, because I don't much like to cook. I love to eat, though. Too bad my preferences don't run the other way around.
In any case, she cooked, and cooked, and cooked ... often one dish over and over until there was no possibility you could win a prize on a game show if the question happened to be "what is that on the table for dinner this evening?"
Meat dishes were her specialty, and an ordinary meat-cooking process went something like this. First she would fry it for awhile, because that is what her generation did. Remember my generation is the first to try to switch from frying to steaming or baking, and frankly, it has been a tough transition. I'm just saying ....
After frying the meat for awhile, she would then add a little water to the skillet and steam it for a day or two. When it had reached just the right degree of emulsification, and just an hour or two before dinner was to be served, she would pop the pan into the oven and bake it for a brief couple of hours - just be sure it was good and hot for the serving.
I am pretty sure these cooking rituals were left over from her pioneer days when they dug a pit, and put a pig in it wrapped in leaves, at the beginning of summer, and pulled it back out to eat it just around harvest time.
Naturally, with this kind of cooking inclination, she thought the micro-wave, when it came out during the latter days of her life, was the greatest invention since sliced bread. She loved to nuke things: bread things, and vegetable things, and meat things... oh, my goodness, she could reconstitute a week-old pork chop like nobody's business. I am still in awe. Excuse me, while I pop a Tums in honor of the memory.
The most unique menu she ever shared with us came about one evening a few months into our stay. I suspect she had just worn herself out frying and steaming and baking and broiling (oh, now there was an adventure not to be missed!). She was, after all, in her late seventies, when she suddenly found herself trying to keep three rambunctious kids filled ( two of them teen age boys). So on the evening in question she had decided to go lightly on the cooking.
I had gone to work in an office by then, and thus was at least out from under her feet for eight hours each day. I would, however, help set the table when I got home. In preparation for that, I privately asked K. (because I needed to be able to control my reaction when I saw it on the table for the first time), "What's for dinner this evening?"
He looked at me nervously, and mumbled something I didn't quite catch.
"What did you say? I didn't quite hear you."
"Chicken noodle soup and mashed po.... ."
"I'm sorry, chicken noodle soup and what?"
Sighing in resignation for what he knew my reaction would be, he said, "Chicken noodle soup and mashed potatoes."
I stood stock still for a moment trying to figure out how that would work. Did you put the mashed potatoes into the soup? Some kind of puree, perhaps? Did you serve the soup first, and then the mashed potatoes were the a la carte entree? Nope. I could not work it out. So I walked away with a blank look on my face.
It turned out the soup was served the regular way, in small soup bowls. And the mashed potatoes were served on little plates as a side dish. Allll righteeee, then.
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It was a tough six months. Not because of Lucy. I would say she was generous in the extreme with her home and help when you consider what a shock to her daily routine it must have been, to go from living alone, to suddenly having two teen age boys, a third-grade girl, and their parents all over your house. She was a real trooper about it.
But I have to say, it was not easy. I was now thirty-six years old, and did not own a dish, bed, or towel of my own. You could say I was cranky. Yes, you could certainly say that.