Full Circle: A husband proves his mettle

Published 9:50 am Saturday, January 26, 2019

I’ve been married for 60 years. On our second date, Glen and I decided we’d found our matches. It wasn’t as if we hadn’t “been around,” for we’d had plenty of other chances, yet instinctively we somehow knew.

On a snowy night in December 1958, during our Christmas break from the University of Colorado, we sealed our fate as we confidently floated down the aisle of Austin’s new Westminster Presbyterian Church.

In those days not many sensible people honeymooned during the deep December freeze of northern Minnesota. The motel owners couldn’t believe their good fortune when we drove up, quickly dusting the frost off their registers while treating us like the royalty we believed we were. There was always a wait for the room, of course, while the heat chugged on and the plumbing was prayed over to make certain it wasn’t frozen, but we were so straight-out, blissfully lovestruck we didn’t even notice the delays.

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A week later we returned to Boulder. Our first home was a budget-priced, second-floor apartment, a structure not recognized for its excellence in architecture. The wooden steps ran up the outside of the building and the landlord lived down below. One foot inside the only door put us immediately into a veritably lackluster kitchen that was so tiny we had to take turns inside it. The refrigerator was only 3 feet tall by 18 inches across, and by some miracle of engineering, sunken into its top was the kitchen sink.  See what I mean? My one frying pan could not fit inside it.

In that teeny space my worth as a wife was soon to be tested. You see, I was the daughter of a cook extraordinaire, but unfortunately had not learned much from her — something I’m still puzzling over. This, however, does not mean I was unaware of the basic food groups, because I was. I knew dinner must consist of a salad, a cooked vegetable, potatoes, bread, meat and gravy. But, how that was accomplished all at once remained to me a conundrum of the first order.

Three days into our newly-melded life, I realized the time had come. I needed to cook Glen the perfect full-coarse … er, course … meal. Two major counts were against me: my lack of skill and our lack of funds. We were, after all, two college students, 20 and 22, living on the GI Bill; our pennies as precious as gold. (This, I would add, was not helped by the discovery only two months later that we were pregnant!)

Corralling my confidence, I entered the local Safeway to prove whether or not Glen had made a good choice in me. Selecting the potatoes, vegetable and salad were not too arduous, nor was picking the sliced Wonderbread. It was the predicament over choosing the meat that nearly did me in. I had no experience in this department having gone straight from Mom’s kitchen to the university’s cafeteria. Meat was sooooo expensive! And how in the world did I cook it? In the end, after intense agonizing, I settled on pork chops. Two. Small.

The rest of the day was spent preparing the feast. This was hindered by having only two burners and that pesky Lilliputian-sized sink. Still, I persisted. When Glen came home from class, the table (loaned to us by his uncommonly generous aunt) was set with the two plates, two glasses, and two knives, forks and spoons that we owned. Nothing more, nothing less. In a somewhat tremulous voice, I announced that dinner was ready.

As a pleased Glen seated himself at the table, my blood was pumping like an Oklahoma oil rig, my brow was moist and my eyes couldn’t stop flitting — tweaking and refining the placement of each lettuce leaf on the plates. And to top it off, I was wearing an apron. With ruffles! To add to my consternation, I realized there was the possibility that Glen might confuse me with Betty Crocker. Sheesh! Weren’t my overwhelming culinary responsibilities enough? Now I’d have to keep reminding him that it was just me, not Betty, the girl he’d married only the week before!

As he waited, I meticulously filled the plates in our ridiculously barely-there kitchen. It was the production of my lifetime. Everything had to be perfect. I cordoned off the  canned peas from the mashed potatoes (dang! … was that a lump?), added the salad (we didn’t have bowls), and finally crowned my achievement with the undersized pork chops (one each). In every respect it did not look like a scene out of Downton Abbey.  Gingerly I carried the plates the five-foot expanse to our equally diminutive living room where an expectant Glen awaited his first-ever Peggy dinner. Then swiveling around, I returned to the kitchen for the final piece de resistance. The gravy.

Yes, I had made gravy. How? To this day I haven’t the foggiest idea. One of our wedding gifts, given by a highly pragmatic guest, was a nesting set of three stainless steel mixing bowls … aka my serving vessels. I reached for the largest one, somehow filling it to its 12-inch brim. (Like the pyramids of old, herein remains the mystery of how I made that much gravy from two weeny pork chops.) Then I placed a brand-new wooden, long-handled cooking spoon in the bowl and picked it up. I would be less than truthful if I did not admit to my astonishment over the weight of that bowl. Carrying it required two strong hands and a steady back in order to get it to the table without grunting, where I, with great — though concealed — effort, ceremoniously placed it in front of Glen.

As I did so, I was alarmed to see the wooden spoon sticking straight up from the middle of the overly-full bowl How could that be? I held back a gasp as Glen reached for the spoon. It didn’t budge. Then he ever so slightly tugged on it. With that, the entire contents of the bowl began to rise very slowly. It was like watching sequoias grow. Finally, there was a muffled “pop” as the solidified mass broke free from the suction. Sluuurp!  I looked in horror as my husband, the love of my life, sat there holding an upside-down, brown, 12-inch-diameter blob on a long-handled wooden spoon. It looked like a huge, velvety lollipop. But, even more like a great big vegetarian toilet plunger. What Glen would do in the following seconds would determine the longevity of our marriage.

It’s not easy, you know, balancing such a load on the thin handle of a long wooden cooking spoon, but he did it. Then masterfully turning the blob in the air, Glen maneuvered it unerringly back into the exact confines of the steely mixing bowl where it fit like the proverbial glove. He then looked at me with non-judgmental adoration as he reached for his knife, cut out a chunk of densely coagulated gravy and spread it over his potatoes and solitary pork chop.

And that, dear readers, is precisely how you stay married for 60 years.