By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, June 14, 1987
It was going to be the dinner hour of my dreams, the married life I had imagined for myself as a girl back in suburban Detroit.
The table would be set, the chicken roasted to golden perfection. The children, fresh-scrubbed, would welcome their daddy home from work with sweet-smelling hugs.
Maybe I would even put candles and a clean tablecloth on the table.
Jon had taken a job. A real job. No more working out of the corner of Christina’s bedroom. From now on, he would be writing programs for a Marin software company.
This was Jon’s first day on the new job. He was out of bed at 6:45 a.m. and on the road by 8. He wouldn’t be home till nearly 7 p.m.
A long day. When he arrived home, I resolved, dinner would be waiting, a bottle of wine uncorked and breathing, a blush of lipstick on his wife’s lips.
But I forgot.
Jon had done the shopping on Sunday. The chicken, the broccoli, the potatoes and the wine were ready. All I had to do was cook.
But I forgot.
I remembered my usual Monday chores. I took Peter to play at Dan’s in Berkeley. I dropped Christina at Lindsay’s in San Leandro. I stopped at the bank and the shoe store. I picked both kids up. I even remembered to be home by 6, in time for dinner.
Roh Ki Hwa of Seoul, Korea, was an hour late making lunch for her husband at a company picnic last month. She had forgotten about daylight savings time.
Hwa hanged herself.
Could I do less?
Hwa had forgotten lunch. I had missed dinner. Hwa had an excuse, a time switch. My only excuse was three brain-numbing trips between Berkeley and San Leandro.
On the other hand, someone had to make dinner at our house that night.
Last Minute Dinner Prep
Dutifully, I put aside my guilt and popped a videotape into the VCR for my two sweaty children. They had to be out of the way if my dream dinner was to be ready by 6:45.
The telephone rang. It was Jon, calling from the office. “How’s dinner going?”
I had cooked dinner maybe a dozen times in our 10 years of marriage. Jon thought I might need coaching.
“Maybe it was a Freudian slip,” I suggested. “Fear of cooking or something.”
“Barbara,” was all he said.
“It’s OK,” I said rashly. “It’ll be ready.”
Frantically, I cut the roasting chicken into broiler-sze pieces. It would cook faster that way. Too late for baked potatoes. I put water on for bow tie noodles.
There was no time for the lipstick, let alone the clean tablecloth and candles.
I Used to be a Good Cook, Honest
In my single woman days, I used to be a pretty good cook. I made an out-of-this-world apple kuchen, a divine wiener schnitzel.
But Jon only recalls the meal I made on our first date — raw shrimp seared in Bermuda onion and lemon juice, accompanied by alfalfa sprouts dressed with sesame seed oil.
My friend Joan, also a single woman, had given me the recipe.
Joan assured me that my date, who I hoped would be falling in love with me that evening, would be deeply impressed by my creativity.
Jon barely ate his dinner. Months later, he confided that it gave him heartburn.
I have since lost touch with Joan. I wonder if she is still single.
Soon after our wedding, Jon took over the cooking and grocery shopping. He was, after all, a liberated man married to a liberated woman.
At first, I hovered about the kitchen, making sure he didn’t scorch the new cookware.
Then I realized that Jon wanted — not to help with the cooking — but to be in charge of it. If I didn’t leave him alone, he might quit cooking altogether.
He didn’t scorch the cookware.
Jon’s So-So Wife
That was 10 years ago. Now, with Jon working full time and my working part time, it made sense for me to cook again.
The Monday after the forgotten chicken, Jon left spaghetti for me to cook. Pretty simple. So simple, in fact, we have had spaghetti every Monday for weeks.
Last Monday, I finally got it right.
When Jon arrived home, the kids were bathed and in their pajamas. The candles were not on the table, but dinner was.
“This is wonderful,” Jon said. “A nice dinner, a really nice dinner.”
No matter that the phone rang twice as we ate and that the children, in their clean pajamas, had escaped to the yard to make mud pies.
This was as close as I was going to get to the dinner of my girlish dreams.
© 1987, The Oakland Tribune. Reprinted by permission