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Another Day in the Country

© Another Day in the Country

I’m waiting for my daughter to get off the phone so we can continue the project we’re working on.

Waiting is something I seem to be doing a lot of these days as I try to be helpful and at the same time do the least possible extra work for anyone in the household.

It’s called being “part-time guest” and “part-time maid”. You know what it is like if you’ve had any extended stay in someone else’s house.

At the moment, I can hear my grandson attempting to exert dominance over the stellar jays, which California has in abundance.

“Go!” he commands in his most fierce voice, “Get out of here!”

At his age, he needs to have dominance over something. He tried it with the cat, who just disappeared from sight. He’s tried it with their old dog, but his mother put an end to that attempt. So, the jays that come to steal the cat food have his ire up this morning. Sometimes, it’s inanimate objects, like the bike he can’t get over some obstacle, or the watering hose he can’t control.

I understand all about control because, like my 5-year-old grandson, I’ve been going with the flow, pretty much out of control.

You’d think it would be easier because I am in a house that I lived in for 30 years. It is in many ways familiar territory, my domain. However, it is no longer my house in the broadest sense of the word, because my daughter and her husband have lived there for all the years I’ve been in Kansas. This is their house and even though I still own it, the house is their domain, under their control, and I am a guest.

The kitchen where I helped install the cupboard, tile the floors, wallpaper and paint the walls, cooked in for all those years, is no longer familiar territory.

In the napkin drawer, for instance, there’s still wax paper and tin foil in their designated spots, but where the napkins are supposed to be are packets of ketchup and soy sauce from fast food leftovers and an empty cigar box.

What the heck is an empty cigar box doing in the napkin drawer? You guessed it! There’s no room for napkins, no napkins in sight, no paper products anywhere in this kitchen, including paper towels.

Not only do we recycle in this household (with a vengeance), we also preserve the trees evidently by not using unnecessary paper.

If my daughter were reading over my shoulder, she’d probably say, “Of course we have napkins, Mom. They are on top of the refrigerator, see?”

Right. This kitchen is not a familiar friend. It is alien territory, where they don’t use the dishwasher and keep cooking utensils in the oven. I need to just flow with it!

When I first arrived, I desperately needed to go grocery shopping. My daughter’s husband was at work. Her car had been totaled, and she was still grieving its loss.

What to do? It’s like Ramona, in one way, because the nearest grocery store is eight miles away.

A neighbor saved the day.

“We’re going to St. Helena to Safeway,” he said, “Would you like to come?”

Would I? Yes!

We’d made a list, my daughter and I, of things she wanted to have for meals. I took my list and headed out. $200 later, we were back.

“This is more food than we’ve had in this house since your last visit,” my daughter laughed.

Where were we going to put it? Already the refrigerator was crammed with well-meaning potluck food from friends and school chums.

My first instinct was to open the cupboards on the left, where I’d always kept staples and canned food. Not an inch of room there. Those shelves were already filled to overflowing with strange packets of who knows what to do with: Korean fare, with labels written in languages I could not read and contents I hadn’t the slightest notion how to use.

Evidently, my daughter was in the same boat. Her mother-in-law regularly gives them little gifts of food, which in her cooking experience were staples.

My American-cooking daughter, who really doesn’t even like cooking, period, evidently seldom used those gifts.

Meanwhile, I, the new cook in residence, sure as heck didn’t know how to use them. Hence the trip to the store, while the shelves at home were full. I had to have something I could recognize in order to put together a meal.

I really pride myself in being able to put a meal on the table with little content in the fridge, but I have to have the staples —my staples, not noodles and pepper sauce. You give me a dab of milk, flour, eggs, a potato, and I can scrounge something up for supper that will delight your taste buds and fill your tummy.

I set myself to making room in the cupboard, my old cupboard, where the staples were supposed to be kept, moving noodles made of sweet potato starch, sea weed, more noodles/green, flax seed, hominy, dried powdered mushrooms, oriental style vermicelli, choung soo dried naeng myun (whatever that is), rice cakes, pickled ginseng, whole wheat organic bread sticks, sprinkles and frosting tubes from Dagfinnr’s birthday party two years ago, and a can of salmon. (Wow, salmon, I do know how to make salmon patties, thanks to Tooltime Tim — although even he wasn’t all that fond of them.)

Having been an adult for more than 50 years now, independent, I’ve found it quite an adjustment to be all these weeks in a foreign land even though it once was my home turf.

It’s an adjustment to be without familiar things like the spot in the drawer that houses the can opener or the continuing supply of flour and sugar from the pantry shelves, or comfort food that is familiar and well loved.

I’m eccentric enough to have brought my own pillow and down blanket with me in my already bulging suitcase.

“I can survive anything with these small luxuries,” I told myself; but I needed more.

I finally went out and bought a set of sheets and a proper mattress pad that didn’t slip all over the place for the guestroom bed. Ah, comfort at last, even though the bed was more like a hammock in its dip and sway.

I had to laugh, remembering when my folks used to come visit us years ago in this very house. My poor parents had to sleep in a waterbed because that was the only adult-sized bed in the house.

“Make waves, Martha,” I heard my father call one morning, “so I can get out to go to the bathroom.”

In the afternoon, my dad would go out and sleep in his car. Jess and I would chuckle about this idiosyncrasy of dads. Imagine napping in the car. But now I understand! He was looking for some quiet, familiar spot to relax — away from the noise of kids, the hard unfamiliar couch, the strange bed.

Well, it’s another day in the country — I am really in the country here, believe it or not; although it is not like Kansas country.

Last night my healing daughter said, “I feel like cooking Korean food tonight. How about it?”

I was game. I honestly enjoy eating at the Korean restaurant, although my choices are limited.

She started taking down unfamiliar things from those high shelves where I’d relegated the Korean noodles.

“Do you want to learn how to make this?”

I did. I watched and learned. It was yummy. I’m just going with the flow!

Last modified July 11, 2012

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