The writing exercise I am working through clearly suggests listing in detail all the places I’ve lived, “one place per page.” The suggestion is to write about the physical space: the rooms and walls, the sights, sounds and smells. Memories attach themselves to places, though. As long as I’m here – at 207 North Court Street, Apartment B – I may as well recount what I can of my time there. Who knows when I’ll get back there again.
We struggled with our budget. Twenty dollars a week was our weekly grocery allowance. My first trip to the grocery store used more than a month’s allowance. It was costly to set up a kitchen with the staples for cooking and baking. Cleaning products came out of the grocery budget, too. So did paper and pens, personal care items, sometimes yarn, and a newspaper or magazine. Beyond the grocery store, it seemed like something was always coming up.
I walked to town almost every day. I wandered through J.C.Penney, and McCrory’s Dime Store. Sometimes I walked down to Church’s Lumber, to look for inspiration. They had building supplies, but also doorknobs and dowels and unfinished furniture. I stopped at Kruth’s Bakery on my way home, to get one cream puff and one raspberry Bismarck. My husband and I shared them, when he came home from work.
I took great pride in being able to plan meals, shop for ingredients and execute the recipes right in my own kitchen. Actually, “execute” is a good, descriptive word! Though I had the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, a gift from my mother, and many years of experience helping to prepare meals in the home I grew up in, I managed to massacre quite a few early attempts at cooking.
My husband thought it was cute, and collected stories of my kitchen missteps. For our entire marriage, he reminded me whenever he got the chance of how my first attempt at chicken and dumplings resulted in “one giant dumpling!”
One problem was that I wanted to get creative. My mother was a good, but predictable, cook. How dull! I wanted new challenges; I wanted to try things that I had never done before! That goal became an issue mainly because of the second problem: I never read a recipe through. I read the ingredients, gathered them, combined them in a bowl, dumped them in a pan and baked, fried or roasted for as long as seemed necessary.
That’s how we had made cookies and cakes growing up. There was no mixing of butter, sugar and eggs, no sifting dry ingredients together before combining them with the beaten liquids. We only read the ingredients list, never the instructions. Instructions were for babies! And that’s why my early creative attempts in the kitchen were so often disasters.
Probably the instructions that came with the baked chicken recipe suggested dipping the chicken pieces in buttermilk, then rolling in seasoned flour, dipping in an egg mixture and then rolling in crushed corn flakes before baking. Having never read the instructions, I mixed buttermilk, eggs, flour, seasonings and cornflakes in a bowl and dumped it over the chicken pieces in my new CorningWare pan. What I ended up with was almost raw chicken pieces encased in a very well-done pancake-like concoction that stuck like cement to my new pan.
I’m sure the Ham Wellington that looked so impressive in the Pillsbury ad had preparation instructions that included actually baking the large ham before encasing it in crescent roll dough. That meal – prepared for company – resulted in cold, raw ham under a beautiful crust. I believe we went out for pizza that night.
We had visitors to our little home. Once, the police came, to ask about a domestic disturbance downstairs. I repeatedly, primly explained that I just “tuned out” the voices that were so easily heard through old walls and heat vents, that I didn’t pay any attention. The officer kept a slight smile on his face, and nodded as he took notes, as I gave him a complete rundown of events, despite having “tuned it all out.” Mike and Cindy were the friends frightened by the large, cold ham. On the day my sister Brenda and her husband Keith came to visit, the bed was unmade and the sink was full of dirty dishes. My in-laws, Pat and Jack, came to see us, with my sister-in-law, Dena, and their dog, Scottie. My husband’s Uncle Don dropped in unexpectedly one night, and ended up sleeping on our couch for several weeks. He even moved with us, when we moved!
One day, out of sheer boredom, I cut about eighteen inches from my hair.
I bought a small, unfinished desk from Church’s Lumber, and finished it (poorly) with wood stain as a gift for my husband.
We got a puppy! Fritz was a small, black terrier mix who I loved immediately.
In the few short months that we lived in our first apartment, we learned that marriage was not all fun and games: cooking wasn’t easy; budgeting was hard; house-breaking a puppy was nearly impossible, especially with a set of steps to navigate. We also realized that the upstairs apartment was going to be hot as an oven in the summertime. When a downstairs apartment in the same building opened up, we grabbed it!