Good Friday morning …
My wife, Sandy, is a great cook.
But she wasn’t always a great cook! When we were married on August 27, 1967, I didn’t give her cooking skills a single thought. That was just not part of my thinking. I actually ASSUMED that all girls learned how to cook before they left their mother’s home. I was wrong!
Sandy had a mother whose kitchen was a small u-shaped affair which allowed room for one person to navigate at a time. I suspect all the houses on Elm Street were like that, having been built as small two-bedroom bungalows right after World War II. At any rate, she was not allowed in that space when meals were being prepared.
So, Sandy did NOT learn to cook at her mother’s knees. Unbeknownst to me, when we were married that overcast Sunday afternoon, all the cooking knowledge stored in Sandy’s head was how to make chocolate chip cookies and how to make jello. That’s not what you would call cooking.
But she quickly learned and adopted the motto: “If you can read, you can cook.”
Within a week of our marriage, we were packed and headed to St. Louis, 900 miles from her home. All our possessions were in a six-foot U-Hall trailer towed behind my dark blue 1964 Malibu. Our destination was a five-room furnished apartment on Clayton Road several blocks from Concordia Seminary where I was to become a student. We called it a “tunnel” apartment because you entered from the front and passed through each room to get to the next … five rooms in a row.
Each room was quite roomy, including the kitchen (room number four as you progressed toward the back of the apartment) which contained a small GE refrigerator. When I say small, I mean typical for that day. The freezer compartment was actually a small space within the refrigerator itself that had its own door and provided storage for two ice cube trays and perhaps a small package of ground beef and several packages of frozen vegetables. Not big at all. You were hard-pressed to fit a quart of ice cream inside with much else.
I recall our first trip to the grocery store to stock our kitchen with food for our first week of married life. We spent a little over $25 as I recall. But my most significant memory was our return to the apartment when we unpacked our groceries. We had purchased a pound of ground beef and I distinctly remember Sandy pulling it out of the bag and asking, “What can I do with this?”
Not thinking too much about it, I said, “You can make hamburgers, or spaghetti, or soup or meatloaf or Salisbury steaks. Things like that.” That was the moment when both she and I knew this would be a learning experience. And like all newly married couples … we were madly in love … and so it didn’t matter a hill of beans.
I had observed a few things watching my mother flip fried chicken on her stove or stir vegetables into a pot of stew or roll out biscuits on her kitchen worktable. And I had been a summer cook at Concordia College basically preparing meals for the summer work crew, including myself. But I was no cook. Never needed to be, never intended to be. I had left my parents’ home at fifteen where three meals a day were standard, attended Concordia Prep School where three meals a day were standard, then attended four years of college where three meals a day were standard … and then got married and thought three meals a day would be standard fare as well. And I was right. It just took a bit of time and learning.
Sandy learned ... and learned quickly. I guess she had to. And her "If you can read, you can cook" mantra took hold with her constant checking out of cookbooks from the public library. She picked up tips from my mother, especially how to make homemade rolls and pie crusts and took a bread baking class offered by a seminarian's wife. For a while she even managed a baking supply co-op for seminarian wives who took up baking, ordering large quantities of product and dividing it into smaller portions. In time, she came to enjoy baking more than cooking.
Her skills allowed her to be confident enough to host 40 people in our home for a sit-down full course meal, our two daughters serving as waitresses. She hosted a pie dessert social for another gathering of 40 or so on a Sunday afternoon, offering a parade of homemade pies, all baked from scratch in her kitchen. For years, every Christmas she offered a Christmas Tea, welcoming women into her home with homemade treats from her kitchen and repeated the effort for a Springtime Tea as summer approached each year.
So, I say again, my wife is a great cook. She became one through trial and error.
Of late, however, Sandy has lost her interest in and desire to cook. Preparing meals has lost its intrigue, planning for them has become a burden and knowing what to cook is mind-boggling. That's not unusual for a woman who has been preparing meals for 53 years and it is certainly understandable. But though her fervor for cooking has waned, and her desire to host large dinners has plummeted, and her interest in attempting new recipes has diminished ... she is still a great cook. And I have been the primary beneficiary.
I know when I have been blessed! And how blessed I am!
All of that to say that this past Wednesday my dear wife became a painter and as a painter, as cautious as she was, her ladder slipped from under her and she crashed to our porch floor where she lay in a puddle of pain. After a day-long excursion by ambulance to two Emergency Rooms and back, it was determined she had broken her right wrist and her left leg below the knee. Needless to say, she is fairly incapacitated for a while. Cooking is the least of her worries. That daily chore has become mine (and believe me, I’m not much of cook as spoiled as I have been) along with caring for my favorite cook. I will long for her return to the kitchen … and I have an idea she may long for that as well after a few weeks on the sideline.
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” [Proverbs 31:10]
Have a blessed weekend …