Date: Sat, 23 Dec 1995 08:55:44 -0600
From: Anne Harwell
Subject: Land of the Clean and home of the Brave
To: Multiple recipients of list WORDS-L
"Oh Graham, I said dreamily, do you think they'll *cook* for us?" That was
the day before my in-laws arrived. Since then, my life has become a Bataan
Death March of eating, and cooking, and cleaning up, and then planning what
to eat next.
The night they got here, Thursday a week ago, they arrived exhausted and
cranky. Martin hadn't been able to smoke for eighteen hours straight and
they'd been awake for about twenty-four hours. Remembering how I feel after
a transatlantic flight, I had prepared a straight path to their bed, with
room in dresser drawers and closet space, plus places to store their bags
while they were here. I even put fresh batteries in an indoor-outdoor
thermometer so they could keep close watch on the temperature, since I
suspected that subject would appear in many letters to friends back home.
After a side trip to show them Graham's office, we got home. It was 80
degrees Fahrenheit. That morning they'd driven through a sleet storm to get
to the airport in Edinburgh. They were mopping their brows and fanning
themselves. Martin was red-faced and breathing hard and I became afraid he
might just have a coronary. So we left the bags in the car and went inside
to rest. After about an hour of awkwward getting-to-know-the-house
conversation, Doris was yawning prodigiously, so I said "Well I guess you
folks have been up for about a day now and could stand some sleep." Doris
said, "We wouldn't mind some tea first Anne."
Tea? They wanted tea. So I scrambled into the kitchen and made up a pot of
tea, and even put out a plate of cookies - genuine English cookies I'd
bought on my last trip to Austin. "Do you have any milk?" Shit that's
right--they put milk in their tea over there. Graham had drunk the last
milk that morning. So we had no milk. After they'd choked down their
milkless tea and unenthusiastically gnawed on an English cookie, I stqarted
trying to shepherd them off to bed again. They were both on the verge og
unconsciousness. "We wouldn't mind a bite to eat," Doris said.
That's when I remembered Graham's usage of the word "tea" to denote the
meal I call "dinner." When they had asked for tea they were actually
wanting me to fix them dinner. No wonder the fallen faces when I produced
cups of tea and cookies. I ended up going to the grocery store with Graham
and hurriedly purchasing the components of a pizza which I assembled and
cooked and placed on the table in front of them about 90 minutes later.
This was when Martin asked if there was dog in the food.
Martin has since taken over the kitchen. Perhaps I should have mentioned
that he just retired last month. So he cooks all the time. And goes to the
grocery store as often as anyone will let him and purchases great scadloads
of food that there is no room for here. Then he prepares these gurgling
dishes of stewed meat and tomatoes, carrots, and onions. Everything must be
served on heated plates. And clean-up is a fetish. Clean-up has to be
started as soon as the first dinner plate comes back into the kitchen. Only
trouble is, his eyesight isn't so good, so things often need to be
re-cleaned later by me.
I sneak into my kitchen now to wash things. There will be
if my displeasure with his efforts is made known. In fact, I find myself
sneaking around the house all the time now, trying to get things done that
might piss him off if he knew. I sneaked a load of Doris' clothes into the
dryer last night because Martin is convinced dryers waste too much money.
She sneaked the dried clothes back to their room and quickly folded them
before he could figure out that they were newly clean and dry without
having been on the clothesline. We haven't had a clothesline at this house
for twenty-five years until last week when Doris strung a line across the
back porch. Last night I sneaked off to the grocery store because I wanted
to buy what we needed, not what was required to make the refrigerator
explode. Then I sneaked the bags in the back door. Martin met me at the
door and said he would have helped me if he'd known I was carrying bags.
Today, we hit the beach. It is 38 degrees outside with a mean north wind. I
smell trouble on the air.