Playing House

Autumn in Virginia has begun. The first cold morning found me shivering under too-thin blankets, and even the shine of blue sky wasn’t enough to warm me. The cold slows down my blood, my thoughts.  So I do what I always do when I get that feeling of change and a slow ending, or a slower beginning. I made a pot roast.

At nineteen, homemaking is magical and mysterious – a passage into being a real grownup, a claim that a person stakes. Squatter’s rights to adulthood. At nineteen, the Paul Revere cookware bought at a flea market fills you with something like pride, something maybe like I TOLD YOU SO. I told you I could do this. Despite leaving home without the tools for even liking myself, let alone for cooking and housekeeping, I set up the tiny apartment and made it home. Coffee will never taste as good as it did from that Salvation Army coffee maker.

On the bed lay the quilt my grandmother made from scraps of clothing from her four girls’ childhood. I know she must have taught my mother to sew, and I wonder why it never crossed my mother’s mind to pass that knowledge on to me. And then I think of their growing up, and the frugality of the parents of that era, and maybe my mother did not want to leave that legacy. Maybe she did not think I needed to sew, or cook and shop frugally. Maybe when she said it is just as easy to love a rich man as a poor man, she was thinking of herself and not me at all.

Because it was fall when we moved in to the apartment, this time of year always reminds me of new starts, and of looking at things differently.  Warm and simple, furnished with second hand things: the bed from Roger, whose story is infinitely sadder than mine, the couch from Hannah, the quilt from my mother. Every thing I touched held memory, my own or someone else’s. I felt surrounded by love, by the beginning of healing from a long, difficult time.  But I had no idea what I was doing.

In addition to not learning how to sew, I was never taught to cook. My mother lacked creativity in the kitchen, preferring prepared foods, or fast food takeout meals. She wasn’t completely bereft of skills, but she saved them for special occasions like the alcohol-soaked parties she and my dad would throw with a regularity that, now that I have my own children to care for, horrifies me.

I wanted to fit neatly into the picture of happy homemaker. I wanted to understand how women do what they do, cooking and cleaning and clipping coupons. But I didn’t know how. Then one day my boyfriend’s mother pulled me aside and asked if she could share a recipe with me. It was for pot roast. The weather was getting colder, much like it did recently. Leaves were flaming the trees; the smell of woodstoves seeped into the air. Pot roast sounded marvelous. So unlike my usual “no thanks I can figure this out on my own” self, I instead allowed her to take me under her wing. I allowed her to teach me. For the brief time I knew her, Sarah proved more of a mother than mine had ever been, at least in traditional ways. She shared her family stories with me, invited me to be a part of her clan. We talked about the mundane and practical. I found it relaxing and educational, and I began to experiment in the kitchen.

Eighteen years have passed since I got my first recipe for potroast. I have grown as a person, as a mother, as a pretty darn good cook. But pot roast made the way I learned to at nineteen is the only food I crave at the onset of fall. When my home smells of earthy root vegetables and sweet onions for hours, and I know I can look forward to something hot and filling, physically and emotionally, at the end of the day – then I can remember what simple feels like.

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2 Responses to “Playing House”

  1. I like your new layout. I can smell the pot roast, too. It makes me feel warm even though I’m not. For me, fall is hearing those radiators hiss and tick from under a blanket. I know, that sounds more like winter, but hey- I’m a cold-natured girl.

  2. Oh how I love a good pot roast or stew and dumplings,gorgeous comforting cold weather food .You can’t beat simple old fashioned recipes !
    Love from Kathy and the girls

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