I had a date tonight. My mother-in-law cooked me a steak. A fat one. In one hand she held her walker. In the other, a skillet. The meat made a lot of noise.
“Gotta sear it good,” explained my mother-in-law. “Keeps all the juice in.”
She baked potatoes and yeast rolls, too. Between us, we split a pitcher of sweet tea. I don’t know how she makes her tea, but when the roll is called up yonder, God better have his glass ready.
My T-bone is perfect. Pink. Tender. My coonhound rests her snout on my lap, in case I feel like sharing with starving canines whose owners neglect them.
I’ve been in this family a long time. I’ve eaten my share of steaks at this table. I’ve known this woman since her hair still had color to it. Before the walker.
On the day of my wedding, she greeted me in the lobby before the ceremony. She and my wife’s aunt straightened my tux and fussed over me.
“Hot awmighty,” said one. “Who put this tux on you, a wino?”
“You’re a mess,” said the other. “Looks like you slept in your truck.”
“Your shoes are filthy.”
“Gimme that comb.”
“Is this BARBECUE sauce on your collar?”
“I Suwannee, too.”
Everybody Suwannee together now.
After she’d trimmed my ear hair and cleaned the smudges from my face using her own spit, my mother-in-law said, “We’re so glad to have you in our family.”
Nobody had ever said anything like that to me.
Anyway, we ate steak, she talked. Mostly, about the old days. She spoke about times before smartphones and twenty-four-hour political channels. An era when towns closed on Sundays. When men cut work to go fishing.
She talked about her mother and how the woman was self-reliant. She could rescreen windows, raise chickens, stain floorboards, and fix mechanical fans.
“But she couldn’t cook to save her dadgum life,” she added.
She tells me about her father. How messy he was, and lazy. Two traits I happen to admire in a man.
“Daddy would take a shot of whiskey, then chase it with peanut butter,” she said. “Every single day he did that.”
Peanut butter addiction is no laughing matter.
And while she carried on, I was in another world. Her world. An old one, that we’ll never see again. One with turntables, sitting parlors, barefoot kids, fish-fries, and coffee made over open-flame stoves.
After we finished eating, the oven buzzer went off. She hobbled to the kitchen, opened the oven. It was a made-from-scratch pie, she told me. Her best friend, Sara Lee, made it.
She doled out slices and scoops of vanilla ice cream. “Lord, look at all this pie,” she remarked. “Feel like we oughta say another blessing over our food.”
Dear Lord, thanks for the food. For steaks.
And people who have the audacity to love me.