(This started out as an intended humorous commentary about a mundane aggravating frustrating unwelcomed after-holiday experience I had, then I clearly seem to have lost control of the content as the words went elsewhere on their own and I, too, became just another reader.)
ONCE IN A WHILE I get a hankering for various foods that I can picture in my mind, almost literally smell and taste in my mouth. I had been thinking about one particular such food combination around the time I gave thought to menu planning for the the past holidays. "What was there to plan?" I asked myself at that time, since there was only me at home, so instead I went out to eat on Thanksgiving -- an account about which I wrote previously.
Despite the fact I could have been with friends, I wanted to see what being alone on a traditional family holiday would be like. My reasoning was I might just as well become accustomed to being alone, since that was my life now. Somehow it seemed to me the longer I waited to have that experience, the more difficult adaptation might be. I didn't expect any serious issues, so I had no negative self-fulfilling prophecies. After all, there are people all over the world who for one reason or another, by choice or not, find themselves alone.
That's not to minimize the feelings, reactions to memories I found myself experiencing on that occasion, but I could embrace the sadness, the loss, the wistful longing, along with remembering the joyful, happy, loving feelings I experienced, all as discrete elements combining to contribute to the richness of my life.
My Christmas holidays were quite a different matter. I would have some very special family members present for what would be my first Christmas alone since -- well, I can't remember since when, or maybe never. For our holiday dinner I allowed them to select the foods of their choice. The primary determination centered on the meat -- turkey, ham, prime rib, or some other preference.
We had previously made plans for a number of activities for various days, so a variety of ways for simple quick food preparation was desired. Along with Christmas preparations including decorating the tree, baking cookies, shopping, there was to be a trip to the taping of a TV show in L.A. that my granddaughter was anticipating; then an afternoon and evening at Griffith Observatory, and another day a matinee lunch featuring a special Christmas musical at a nearby dinner theatre. Then after Christmas the younger set wanted to participate in decorating a Rose Parade float, an activity which had become an instant tradition after their having done so the previous year for the first time.
Considering our activity plans, we decided we would like leftovers that could readily be made into sandwiches, eaten cold if we chose. Comparing notes we discovered we'd all had turkey at Thanksgiving, so choosing ham for a variation was logical and easy. Almost immediately, I began envisioning my dining future when I was once again alone, concluding my advanced planning would insure the ham bone would be left with lots of ham still attached.
Past years on those holidays when my husband and I had ham, toward the end of the ham's life we followed what became a tradition we took for granted. This unofficial tradition evolved before the children were born, and we discovered that we both liked very ordinary soup beans with ham and cornbread. We did, however, disagree as to whether or not the beans should be small or large size -- just one of those topics that can stimulate conversation, give new meaning to the word compromise, increase awareness for the need of "adjustments" in order to enhance the possiblity of relationship compatability, since neither of us could recall our wedding vows specifically covering that bean topic. I've also realized we couldn't have avoided those issues even if we had merely lived together instead of marrying.
I think the bean issue must be an example of the fact that partners in a relationship may handle major items reasonably well, but it's the little things that can be wearing over time. Despite all that, sometime, at least once yearly, during each of those five years with just the two of us, we managed the ham 'n beans with cornbread routine. The size of the bean usually depended upon who purchased them at the store. The meaty combination was always better when reheated, whatever the size bean, beginning especially with the second day, so we made a pretty big pot of beans.
Our bean soup tradition became even more special to us when two years after we wed, we bought our first house, set in the outskirts of a rapidly growing area of 300,000 which is now the fifteenth largest city in the U.S. Our house and acre an-a-third property has long since been devoured by a housing development of million dollar homes. We sold it when my husband's employment required we move, ultimately, to a distant location. Too bad! If we had lived there only a few more years, we would have made a significant amount of money on our property -- IF we had been willing to sell to the developers. If we hadn't been willing to sell they probably would have figured out a way to get it through eminent domain in the name of progress.
I can still envision in that house our first real working fireplace, an activity described in songwriter vocalist Mel Torme's The Christmas Song lyrics "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." In my memory as the chestnuts roast, I'm gazing out our front picture window at snow-covered leafless maple trees in regal stance at irregularly spaced intervals in arc shape around our house, as though we were in the midst of a forest clearing. Interspersed among them were varying numbers of birch, elm, oak, smaller red bud trees, tall evergreen trees with one mixed grouping appearing as though they were standing protective guard around a seemingly radiating little blue spruce tree which will always be the most beautiful blue spruce I have ever seen. When I think of that house, that idyllic picturesque location, I always feel nostalgic, a sense of sadness wondering what happened to our blue spruce tree? This, as with much in life, is a question for which there will never be an answer for me to know.
Back to the present, the holidays are over, family members are gone, I am once again alone. The first month of a brand new year has arrived, bringing with it what comes to feel like a "holiday letdown" of some sort. My thoughts turn to those soup beans with ham and cornbread. I forgot to mention, our children never liked that food combination, so we didn't really resume that long ago routine regularly, until after they had left home and, once again, there was just the two of us. Now, there would be just me to savor this very ordinary dining fare so I began the simple preparations.
The large size soup beans had successfully soaked through the night swelling to even much larger proportion, having absorbed so much of the water in which I had placed them. I poured off the small amount of excess water as my mother long ago taught me, that was a cautionary but highly recommended technique to prevent the confirmation of my father's oft-voiced conviction expressed in rhyme, "beans, beans, the musical fruit." The simple addition of fresh warm water to the now-swelled beans along with adding the ham bone with lots of ham and additional cut-up ham cubes as well as onions, which was all my husband every wanted in the bean pot, was all that was necessary before moving the pot and contents to the stove top. The mixture then simmered on the stove top burner for a couple of hours, or however long I wanted to leave it.
When the beans started cooking, I selected a time in my mind when I would want to pre-heat my oven, mix my cornbread -- again plain, no variations with creamed or whole corn kernels or jalapenos that I found tasty -- perhaps another year I'll bake cornbread variations. The batter is poured into the readied 9 inch square pan, but what is this -- the external light has not gone out, which signals the oven has reached the desired temperature for baking the golden corn bread which I am now highly anticipating eating. I wait...and I wait...and I wait some more. Finally, I hesitantly open the oven door, quickly thrusting my hand inside in order to feel the heat, prepared to just as quickly remove it lest my flesh be cooked. What heat? The oven is barely warm, and I can see only the filaments barely lit up inside the crystal clear light bulb in the back of the oven. Obviously, there is a problem, my oven has died!
I pride myself in adaptive compensatory skills for whatever life throws my way, including a loved ones earlier death and now this present terminal condition of my oven. I hastily pre-heat a toaster oven which has imprecise temperature setting markings, so I just guess. I grab muffin tins from the shelf beneath my stove top, paper liners from my pantry, spoon cornbread batter into each cup from the previously filled 9 inch square cornbread batter-filled pan, then place the muffin tin in the toaster oven for a duration of time at which I again guess. When the top of the muffins start browning, I conclude they are done. In fact, they turned out to be more than done, and the muffins golden yellow dry insides had hardly the moisture, texture and flavor I had come to highly anticipate. The ham 'n beans were tasty, the corn muffins edible at best.
I'll have the oven repaired or replaced in time, but am having difficulty finding service since this is an oven probably dating to when this house was built forty or fifty years ago. I use the microwave and toaster oven for myself most of the time anyway. I'll bake a fresh pan of cornbread to enjoy with some other desired food of my choice when my taste buds next prod me to do so, or perhaps I'll do that to check out the oven function when next I have one that works.
I couldn't help thinking, though, isn't this so like life? We have periods of high anticipation, instances of lowered expectations, events of desolation, but begin examining what we must do to rectify problems, and in so doing focus on a glimmer of hope. Then, in a more calm aftermath we relish the richness of what we have, settle for some of the mediocrity, consider our future, begin further thinking, dreaming, planning and anticipating what we want and hope to be able to realistically achieve in the years ahead. I believe this to be a true, viable manner in which to view and approach life experiences, whatever our age and circumstances. I also have become aware that over the years, as with my bean soup 'n cornbread, the very ordinary often does become extraordinary, upon reflection