The other night my sweet father-in-law took Nancy and me out for steaks, which reminded me of an incident from my courtship.
When I was dating Nancy, my mother, Mur, would have us over Sunday nights for an elegant dinner and to watch Upstairs Downstairs on Masterpiece Theater. Mur had not turned out gourmet meals on a regular basis up to that time, nevertheless could put on quite a sumptuous spread when she chose. My childhood meal growing up was a hamburger patty, boiled spinach, cottage cheese, and apple sauce. Breakfast was oatmeal, or on special occasions, poached eggs. Another thing Mur liked to make was steak; my maternal grandmother was a Montana girl, so Mur was quite the carnivore and passed on her tastes to me. Steak was to be eaten as rare as you could stand it, salt and pepper only - no steak sauce. Even to mention "ketchup" around a good cut of meat would have been an affront.
But during my courtship, as I say, Mur put one spectacular meal after another on the table. I think Mur had sized Nancy up and decided I would need all the help I could get. The meals and Masterpiece Theater were contrived to convince Nancy that the Martins were high-tone people a gal'd be lucky to marry into. I think the campaign must've been a success because I was pretty impressed myself.
But then one Sunday night we showed up, and Mur met us at the door in her bathrobe. She hadn't been expecting us. Upstairs Downstairs had come to an end, and so, Mur wrongly assumed, had our visits. But Mur was too good a hostess to turn us away. She insisted we come in and let her fix us dinner.
Spinach was dumped from a freezer bag into boiling water. Was there cottage cheese in the refrigerator, and applesauce in the cabinet? Yes! And even cinamon to sprinkle on the applesauce for that extra je ne sais quois! No need to ask if there were steaks in the freezer, there were always steaks in the freezer! Mur threw some coals on the hibachi, soaked them with Gulf Light and as soon as the flames subsided klunked three frozen-solid t-bones on the grill.
That night we feasted as I had feasted in days of old. The cottage cheese was yummy and satisfying, but eat the applesauce first - technically a dessert, but you want it off your plate before the green liquid from the spinach has a chance to seep over and contaminate it. And as for the steaks! Done to a turn, they were! Blackened charred on the outside, with that wonderful lighter-fluid aroma and aftertaste, and raw and pink inside with little crunchy ice crystals at the core. Mur and I fell to the meat like neanderthals; after doing all you can with knife and fork, there is always that tantatilizing little tidbit on a t-bone that can only be gotten at by forcing the right angle of the bone against your face and gnawing. Even little Charley, our dog, growled with happy impatience, waiting for us to finish our bones, reverting to some paleolithic racial memory, when packs of miniature schnauzers followed nomadic cavemen, chewing on caribou scraps thrown from the campfire.
Nancy, when I looked up from my greased fingers, had turned a color indescribable: imagine, perhaps, cottage cheese that has been unwisely left until spinach juice has mixed into it - that would have been her complexion.
But, to Mur's and my relief, she did not dump me on the spot, but ate as much as she could bear - "Are you going to finish that?" I asked, pointing at her steak. She sweetly let me have her share. Mur never subjected Nancy to another authentic Martin family dining experience, but nor did she extend herself to lay out another gourmet meal. If Nancy hadn't left me after that, the damage had been done.
I'd won her.