“Can I help you?“ a butcher yelled from a packaged meat display.
A few feet away, I was standing, clueless, in front of an impressive array of glass-encased chunks of red meat. “Yes, I guess,” I bellowed back. When he was situated across from me, I asked, “How many pounds of a chuck roast do I need to serve six adults?”
“About three and a half.”
“How long would I have to bake it in the oven?”
After he outlined exact hours and temperatures, I gushed my thanks. “It will be the first roast I’ve made in forty-seven years; I want to impress my family.” After no response, I added, “I’ll take about four pounds; I’ll want left overs.”
As excited as I was to purchase this $25.00 piece of thick, marbled and bladed meat, his bland facial expression told me he was not interested in why it was the first roast I’d be making in nearly a half century. He did not want to hear about how my husband, my cook for all that time, would not allow me in the kitchen, and how I was just fine with that, but now I was having my first birthday without him, and my daughter-in-law was flying in from the west coast, and my grandson and wife were driving in from a nearby state, and my daughter and family here in Sioux Falls were all coming to my church that upcoming Sunday, and I wanted to show them I was still capable of making a Sunday dinner.
And I wanted it to be memorable. When I was a little girl in the early fifties, my mother made a chuck roast every Sunday. On Saturday, she would send me to a nearby Kroger to buy the roast. If I recall correctly, it was about fifty cents a pound. Now, aside from the extraordinary inflation, I was determined to replicate her dinners.
So I did. I was up at 6:30 am searing each side for four minutes in olive oil. My mother, I don’t think, had heard of this browning step, but I found a modern recipe; I wanted to be able to blame it if my splendid roast did not turn out.
I resurrected Marv’s roasting pan and found it to be hopelessly rusted, so I attacked it with an ancient, scraggly, steel wool pad I found deep under the sink, but the thick coat of rust resisted my extraordinary effort as if the pan knew I wasn’t its rightful user.
Luckily, I’d once lifted a roasting pan from one of my daughter’s garage sales—mainly because it was new, and a shiny forest-green color that added pizzaz to a shelf in my open pantry. I had no use for it at the time, but now it turned out to be the perfect size. I plunked in the enormous chunk of beautifully browned meat and arranged tiny potatoes around it (did you know there are about a dozen kinds of potatoes in the produce aisle? Baffling! I just went for size.)
Then I mixed a can of celery soup (supposed to be mushroom, but I had an old can of the celery, and purposefully did not check the expiration date), with an old package of dried onion soup (ditto for checking the expiration date. This “not checking” is important to my survival, because, for my kids, anything one day over the expiration date goes in the garbage). With an added bit of water to the mixture, I spread it like an antibiotic cream (I am a nurse, after all) over the meat and potatoes. By 7:00 am, my dinner was in the oven. (I had written directions from my grandson how to turn on the oven, so if the dinner wasn’t ready at 11:30, I had a built-in reason to blame him.)
We all met at my church for the 9:30 service. My DIL played her violin, a solo with piano accompaniment (What a Friend We Have in Jesus) for special music, and as part of a trio for the prelude (Morning Has Broken, All Things Bright and Beautiful), offertory (Dona Nobis Pacem), and postlude (When Morning Gilds the Skies). My little grandchildren flanked me with my daughter and husband and grandson and wife filling the rest of the pew. Can you imagine how full and grateful my heart felt?
After church, I added baby carrots across the top of my roast and potato ensemble and baked it thirty minutes more, while my DIL made her special recipe for cold slaw. My daughter had brought her multi-chipped cookies (no flour is visible, and they are so-o-o good), and I’d given my little grandchildren money to buy baked goods at a sale sponsored by a special Olympics group at my church, so, for dessert, we had the cookies, lemon bars, Toll House cookie bars, and Rice Krispie bars without the Rice Krispies, but with some fruity colorful cereal and others made with a chocolate cereal.
For devotions, I read my husband’s favorite passage, about Jabez. I Chronicles 4:10 “…Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain…’ So God granted him what he requested.” Marv firmly believed that God had blessed him in his life and given him many opportunities (territories) to use those blessings, and he would share that hope for all of us.
With my DILs visit, I ended up celebrating my 77th birthday from Wednesday evening, when she came, to this afternoon when she left. Lots of family time with all my family members above. And my chuck roast turned out as splendidly as I’d hoped; well, maybe a bit more liquid next time so I could attempt gravy, but I told my family I’d proved I could still make a dinner, and I have no need to prove myself again.
Whenever they visit, they are welcome to resume taking over their dad’s kitchen, and I can continue my elderly facade of helplessness.
I thank God for the countless blessings I experienced during this first birthday week of my solo life; there’s more fun to share, but that will have to wait.