Thursday, January 19, 2012


The fall of 1996.  I was 20 years old.  I had my first apartment. I was a junior in college. I was young and idealistic.  And I was a new wife, the ink barely dry on our marriage certificate.

To say that I was a good cook would be stretching it.  A lot.  To be honest, I knew almost nothing.  I could make fishsticks and poptarts and ramen.  But, I was determined, with a young wife's zeal (if not talent), to stretch this pitifully limited knowledge into something resembling Martha Stewart.

But, did you get that part where we were 20 years old and in college in our first apartment?  We were also dreadfully poor.  Our entertainment center was cinderblocks and 2x4's.  Our bed was first one that we borrowed out of my dad's garage, replaced later with one we pilfered from the apartment complex's garbage pile.  Our desk was brought from Joel's parents' house. Our couch had been acquired at a garage sale.

The only moderately new thing in the place was the refrigerator, and that has its own story.

The first couple months, money was pretty tight.  I had a work study job at the college, and they gave me as many hours as the financial aid allowed.  But, Joel hadn't yet found a job.  He worked temp office jobs for a bit, and then finally he landed a position at a computer warranty company.  Only trouble was, on Saturdays, he had to be there at 5am.  5am.  I wasn't any different then... 5am should not exist. Ever.

But, on his first day, I was determined to be "a good wife."  While he was in the shower that first Saturday morning, I got up.  I dragged myself into the kitchen and I decided to make him pancakes.  I'd made pancakes at home... it was one of the few things I could prepare.  But, at home, we had one of those big pancake griddles that you plug into the wall.  Here in my new apartment, I had only a skillet you put on the stove.  And our stove was gas, something I hadn't quite gotten used to cooking with yet.  I knew virtually nothing about making pancakes on the stove... like oiling the pan or... turning the burner down, I guess.

They just cooked so fast.  They didn't cook this fast at home.  It seemed they'd hardly been on the skillet before it started smoking and the bottoms turned dark brown, seemingly needing to be flipped.  But I was trying.  I wanted this breakfast to be nice for my husband, as I sent him off to work. So I made the pancakes the best I could.  And then realized we had no syrup.  You can't have pancakes without syrup.

But I was trying, see.  And I'd been trying for a few weeks.  I'd taken to frequenting the "cooking" and "frugal household maintenance" areas of the local library.  So, I had this book.  I can still see it in my head, I checked it out so much in those first few months.  Now, in this book, I had read that if you added a wee bit of water to a small bowl of jelly... and then microwaved it, it would resemble syrup.  That sounded nice, didn't it?  Strawberry syrup?  So... I followed the directions, and when Joel emerged from the shower, dressed for work, he entered the living room to the coffee table (what passed for a dining room table at the time) set for a breakfast for two.

He was so sweet.  He came in and he sat down, and he dug into those pancakes and he told me how awesome they were, as I finished the puttering around in the kitchen before I sat down on the floor with him.

And then I sat down and dug into mine.   "Dug" might be stretching it.  I took a bite... and then you know how you do when you eat something that isn't quite what it's supposed to be.  Your chewing slows down, a look of almost-horror crosses your face until it fully computes in your brain, "No one in their right mind should be eating this."

It was terrible.  Burnt on the outside.  Completely raw on the inside. And that melted jelly was anything but strawberry syrup.

To this day, Joel insists that they weren't "that bad."  I can't see how he can possibly make that claim with a straight face.  But, he knew I was trying, and maybe that's all that was needed for them to be "not that bad."

And, as my mom says, that's just one reason why I kept him.  He's not that bad, either.

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