THINGS have changed since I was a bride. Most young people marry these days planning to be two-career couples with vastly different lifestyles than those of us grandmothers. Two careers were not unheard of in our day, either, but this usually came later, after the kids were grown and well into school. Until then, we were generally well-organized, regular-meal families who ate together whenever possible.
Homemaking, in those days, was usually the sole responsibility of the wife and mother. In many respects, I would not have wanted it any other way. Homemaking was a career! I was CEO of a flourishing corporation, carrying a challenging share of responsibility but, at the same time, commanding a heady share of authority, deference and prestige from the staff.
There was one thing, though, that my mother failed to impress on me adequately -- that homemakers were expected to turn out three feedings a day every day for the rest of their lives (and without a microwave). Cooperative husbands and children helped, but the organizational responsibility -- the planning, shopping, preparing -- was essentially assigned to the wife/mother. The awful relentlessness of it was bound to be depressing and to lead inevitably to disenchantment.
In my unfortunate case, singlehood hadn't including any cooking except a whimsical recreational attempt now and again. The honeymoon period continued to disguise reality as my husband and I had others to feed us.
But then the awakening! It came after we settled in our first apartment, equipped with all the essentials of meal-making -- kitchen sink, gas range and refrigerator. They seemed to leer at me, saying, "You're trapped now, aren't you?" We've finally got you to ourselves." I was reminded of the daughter in the story of Rumpelstiltskin, left alone nightly in a room full of straw she was expected to spin into gold by morning and, of course, not knowing how. I managed to coast along for awhile on prepared foods and TV dinners while I gathered my courage for the showdown.
That's when I discovered that meats drip with blood when removed from their neat supermarket packages and that fish glare at you reproachfully while you try to descale them. And that first chicken, all headless and cold and naked and goose-bumpy, with its poor little neck reminding me of its grisly fate! I was supposed to create attractive, appetizing dishes out of these creatures?
It's a tribute to the strength of the human spirit that I did eventually get the hang of it. I even went through a phase of high adventure -- each meal becoming a challenge equivalent to the scaling of Mt. Everest!
Inevitably, though, I soon began to feel the weight of the burden -- meal after meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner; breakfast, lunch and dinner, like little soldiers marching in endless parade. It seemed I no sooner finished cleaning up after one meal than I had to start planning for the next.
If a bride in my day had listened closely, she probably would
have heard a muted sound at the conclusion of her marriage ceremony, something like a soft, metallic clang. It would have been the clamping of the three-meal-a-day ball and chain that came with the wedding ring.
And one of her most significant vows on her wedding day should have been an unspoken one: "I take thee and your insatiable appetite to feed and nourish thee three times a day, with time out only for vacations, occasional meals out and hospitalizations, so long as we both shall live."
If a bride had been able to smile while she made this silent covenant, she could have been termed a heroine, deserving to live happily ever after.
Helen J. Rizzo writes from Baltimore.