Today, I am participating in a blog swap with Mary from Buck n Run Ranch. You can see my post about my first time cooking for myself at Boy Scout camp there.
When Edward suggested we swap blog posts, I was excited. He would write a post for my blog and I, for his. He threw out three subjects and two of them seemed perfect. I was really hoping he chose “Halloween dishes.” I can do that. But no, he chose the one I dreaded, “The First Meal I Ever Cooked.”
To talk about the first meal I ever cooked, requires that I re-visit my childhood and adolescence. In Edward’s guest post for my blog, he says that, in his family, everyone cooks. He recounts grating cheese as a child while sitting on the floor and baking cakes and cookies with a house full of cousins. Norman Rockwell couldn’t have conjured up a more homey image.
My childhood was hardly the stuff of Norman Rockwell. It was something you survived. I can speak about it here where I could never do so on my blog. You see, in my childhood home, the kitchen, cooking, and all household “chores” were the exclusive domain of my mother. I was as close as you can get to being the middle child of six girls. When I left home and married shortly after my 18th birthday in 1967, I had never done so much as made a sandwich. I know that is difficult to believe, but true. I took Home Economics in high school. Do they even teach Home Ec any more? I looked forward to that class more than any other. I can’t really say I “cooked” a meal in Home Ec. There were so many students in the class, that we each were assigned a small part of the preparation. The first dish we made was a wilted lettuce salad. I had never heard of wilted lettuce salad, on purpose. It seemed so sophisticated to me. It even had sliced hard-boiled eggs in it. I was impressed beyond words, especially when I was assigned the task of wilting the lettuce. Clearly this was the most important part of the entire dish. Ruin that, and there goes the entire salad. I felt I was chosen because I was the most responsible student in Home Ec. As I sit here today, I think it was probably because my last name began with a “C” and they assigned the tasks alphabetically. But, I wilted that lettuce to perfection as I did each task assignment from that point on. My reward was an A+ in Home Ec and a love of cooking that stays with me nearly fifty years later.
I left home in 1967 and took a three-day bus trip from California to Texas to marry my first husband. That marriage lasted 30 years. We lived in an apartment in an old house for $25 a month in rent. Our elderly landlady allowed us to pick vegetables from her ample garden and share in all the fresh eggs and home canned foods we wanted. Without that, we would not have gotten by on a military salary of $198.00 per month.
The first meal I can remember making was a tuna sandwich. Bread was $0.21 per loaf, a can of tuna $0.31, and a quart of mayonnaise $0.49. For $1.01 you could tuna make sandwiches with lots of bread and mayonnaise left over.
Our landlady canned bread and butter pickles and since they were free, a thick layer went on each sandwich. Sweet onions from her garden were diced into the tuna and mixed with the mayonnaise. It was a wonderful sandwich that we enjoyed many times each month. If the bread got moldy from the intense Texas humidity, I just made salad instead of sandwiches. Canned tuna and a jar of peanut butter got us by. The best part was that I got to prepare food for myself, for the first time in my life, in my kitchen. We endured humidity severe enough to grow mold on our couch, and roaches that scampered across the kitchen floor. We had to go through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. I had to stand on a chair to reach the chain to pull to turn on the kitchen light. To avoid stepping on bugs in the dark, my husband placed chairs so that I could climb from one to one until I reached the chain to turn on the light. It was the worst of times. it was the best of times. It was sacrifice, but it also brought freedom and independence.
I still struggle with self-esteem, of feeling competent, and good enough. I harbor no grudges. I love my parents unconditionally. In adulthood I came to understand my childhood. I know that my parents would have done better, if they could have done better. Children learn what they live. I did better, because I knew better.
So, thank you Edward for giving me the opportunity to write about things I don’t speak about. Through tears this morning, I made that newlywed tuna sandwich, replete with my home-made bread and butter pickles. I enjoyed this sandwich and my independence to eat it before 9 a.m. with a good cup of coffee.