Long about 1960 my family fell back into a rhythm. Often painful, there was no argument that significant changes had begrudgingly settled in our home. Our numbers had been whittled down from 5 to 3. We lost Larry to a tragic accident in the fall of ’58 and my older sister Mona got married in 1960. Henceforth it was just Mom, Dad and me. The leftovers.
Mom cooked 5 nights a week, Monday through Friday. The usual fare for small town living in the Midwest-with a Dutch twist. Meatloaf, spaghetti, goulash, pork chops, Taverns, tuna casserole, Tater tot casserole, fried chicken, roast beef, Saucijzbroodjes, scalloped potatoes with ham and soups up the wazoo-vegetable beef, chicken with rice, Navy bean, whole pea and chili. During the summer these menu items were added, BLT’s, hamburgers (fried-not on the grill), an occasional rib steak (also ‘done up’ in the fry pan), iceberg lettuce salad with spicy Western dressing, fresh stuffed tomatoes (with tuna salad in the center) and a summer salad using that soft butter lettuce from the garden.
The three of us went out for supper every Saturday night. Usually some nearby town within 30 miles of Rock Valley. There was a standing invitation for my bestie Char to join us. Her parents obliged most Saturday’s which added much to our evening. Char was comfortable with my mom and dad (she came from a big family and thought it was heaven to be singled out for a quiet night, no chores afterwards and a restaurant meal).
If Mom was working the weekend, Dad and I had Swanson’s TV dinners (turkey for me, Salisbury steak for him) after the morning church service on Sunday. If Mom had the weekend off, she’d usually start a roast in the oven as we headed out to church at 8:55. Services didn’t start until 9:30, we were only 3 blocks away, but it was imperative we arrive at church by 9. (We sat on the same side, in the same row and exact same spot every week. No one would dare sit in someone else’s real or imagined assigned church pew. Goodness, we weren’t barbarians). If dad was in the midst of serving another term as an elder in the consistory, they always met for a few minutes before church started. Either way Mom didn’t cook on Sunday night. We ate what was left from the previous week’s suppers.
Mom cleaned the house on Saturday morning. That place had been spit shined by the best. Her. Oak floors were polished and buffed to a blinding high gloss finish. Not one dust mote tarried in our abode. If Mom had invited folks from church over after Sunday night’s church service, a dessert was already made. (My favorite? Angel food cake with her 7 minute frosting which tasted like soft divinity) I’ve never been able to duplicate hers, which was perfection. Dad was usually gone all morning. He did odd jobs around town, mostly for widows. Painting a room, shingling, putting up storm windows or screens. This was extra income for him to spend however he chose. 99% of the time it went for tracks, Bibles and other religious reading/study materials to share with prisoners or the mission.
If Dad was in town, he made a point of coming home to share mealtime with us. Saturday’s dinner (noon meal) remained a constant in our house for many years. It wasn’t anything special yet we did the same thing every single Saturday. I can just picture our small rectangular table in our tiny kitchen as if it were today. Since there were now only 3 of us, one side of the table butted up against the south kitchen wall. Dad practically sat in the doorway to the dining room, Mom was nestled pretty tight between the table and the cupboards. I sat between them with my back fairly close to the stove.
On a saucer, nothing fancy, maybe even sporting a chip or 2 (similar to one with the round groove to place your coffee cup) was a chunk of butter (Hull Creamery)? Mom cut a wedge off the solid pound package and it always sat in our dish cupboard. She hated cold butter thus it was kept at room temperature unless it got up in the 90’s. Then it resembled a yellow oil slick. A loaf of Hillbilly bread sat near the butter. On another small plate were several green iceberg lettuce leaves, still damp from a good dousing from the best tasting tap water known to mankind, then patted dry. We each had a smaller version of our supper plates, a knife and a fork. Saturday meant I was allowed pop, most likely it was an ice cold glass bottle of RC Cola sitting by my plate. There might be a 39 cent bag of Lays Potato Chips leaning against the wall on the table.
Smack dab in the middle of the table was a small bowl. Although she was terribly busy with her Saturday chores, this was not a step to be rushed. In the bowl were the remains of a large can of Deming’s Red Sockeye Salmon. She was fiercely loyal to the Deming’s brand and it had to be red sockeye salmon, never pink. Mom used the same skill set as a top notch brain surgeon when dissecting a can of Deming’s. She flaked apart every morsel looking for parts that were not up to her high specifications. First she poured off half the liquid. Then deftly removed every minuscule piece of silver/black, slimy skin. Each and every tiny spine bone with attached rib like bone were skillfully deemed unworthy, until all that remained was perfectly flaked red salmon. (But it was really orange).
Since the salmon was sitting in a bit of its own juice, Mom taught me to put a lettuce leaf on my Hillbilly buttered bread. Carefully add flaked salmon pretty thick to completely cover the lettuce. But here’s the kicker. Now I added another full leaf of lettuce per Mom’s instructions. (This prevented the soggy salmon from soaking into either slice of my bread). Genius Mom! I still do this religiously with salmon, tuna salad and BLT sandwiches. These 3 sandwich varieties are about the only ones which the Gerritson family partook. Once in a great while I might have peanut butter sandwich but never with jelly. And Mom put the butter on top of the peanut butter so it wouldn’t stick to the roof of my mouth.
I boiled some eggs yesterday for the Hubs’ egg salad (note: not on the menu in the Gerritson home), so I opened a small can of Deming’s for me and dutifully followed Mom’s Saturday’s ritualistic detailed, exorbitantly high standards of maneuvering her way through a can of salmon of its hazards before eating. Which reminded me of my first full day (after a 2 day honeymoon in Sioux Falls) as a married woman 50 years ago. (If you’ve not read some of my stories on the perils of Neese early in our marriage, it’s your loss. I did not know how to boil water. Seriously.)
Hubs and I were back at the grindstone (after eloping and being on the hot seat for it). I told him we’d have sandwiches the first night. (those days I was still trying to impress him) I bought Deming’s, Hillbilly bread, butter and a head of iceberg. Put the salmon under a microscope in my search for the inedible additives, so I’d get it perfect. He was less than impressed with my efforts. “Who eats plain salmon on bread? No one. No. One. And where’s the clump of little bones?” (I would soon realize, no, not the person who eats ketchup slathered on eggs, roast beef, pork chops and meat loaf. Yup some mighty particular taste buds you got there Hubs).
Marriage is all about compromise. I finally learned how to cook. He finally learned to leave the ketchup bottle in the fridge for most meals. He still thinks I’m weird for eating salmon on buttered bread. With two sided lettuce. This from the man who occasionally spots my hidden leftover container of salmon in the fridge, grabs a sleeve of ‘dry as a popcorn fart’ saltines and plops on a healthy portion of bone free, skin free, perfectly dissected Deming’s Red Sockeye Salmon…