But if, as was true when I was little, the children must have dinner with their parents, some such rule as the one my family followed should be law: business was never mentioned in any way, nor were money problems, nor grown-up worries. And if any of us children had grouses to air, or peeves, we did it earlier or later, but never at the table. There we were expected to eat nicely and to converse with possible dullness but no rancor, and being expected to, we did…or else were excused from the room.
My father, because of the endless evening meetings he had to go to as a small-town newspaper editor, had to dine early, and my mother, dependent on unskilled help, could not arrange separate dinners at differing hours for us children and for herself and him, but I have often thought it a pity that they must refrain from any of the rich, quiet talk that a husband and wife should indulge in over their evening meal, in order to reach us children one more rudiment of decent living. The only place where they could converse properly was in bed, and I can remember hearing their low voices going on and on, long after most of the house slept.
Even so long ago I used to think how dull it must be for my father to come home after the paper was off the presses and well onto the streets, to find my mother deep in the unavoidable and noisy routine of getting four or five children washed and brushed and ready to be fed, with never a chance to sit down together and breathe…
Perhaps that is why, now in my own life, I think the quiet drink I have before dinner with my husband, after the children have been tucked away, is one of the pleasantest moments in all the 1,440. It makes the meal which follows seem more peaceful, more delicious. Physically it smoothes out wrinkles of fatigue and worry in both of us, which could, especially if we had been conditioned differently by wrangling parents, lead us inevitably into the Xanthippean tragedy of nagging and bitterness and anger. And that—I know because I have seen it happen—would be the world’s surest way to send my husband from my table and my life…an ugly prospect indeed, and one rightly to be avoided like the poison it would take to do it, brewed to the tune of a woman’s shrewish voice and served, quick death to love, at the family table.
Y is for yak…
…and the steaks that may possibly be carved, now and then, by hungry visitors to the plateaus of Tibet, if they can sneak one of the great black oxen far enough from its native owners…as well as other peculiar steaks, stews, and soups which have nourished men, for one reason and another, within my own knowledge.
To be truthful, I have never met anyone who would admit to tasting yak. Perhaps these bisonlike beasts are too valuable as vehicles to end in the pot. Perhaps there are religious scruples against devouring them, as with the sacred cows of India. Perhaps it is simply that I do not move among the yak-minded, gastronomically.
But whale, now: I can discuss whale, at least vicariously enjoyed. I was married for a time to a man whose father, a most respectable Presbyterian minister, once spent a large chunk of the weekly budget on a whale steak and brought it home gleefully, a refugee from respectability for that one day. Who can know how many memories of unutterably dull prayer meetings the exotic slab of meal wiped from his mind? It may well have been opium, moonlight, orchids to his otherwise staid soul.
Whatever the meandrous escapism of his purchase, it threw his harried wife and his four habitually hungry children into a pit of depression. They had no idea how to cook it and stood looking helplessly at it, wishing it were a good, honest pot roast.
What finally happened to it completed the dismal picture; it was treated as if it were indeed chuck beef, and the minister, his wife, and the four children ladled off cup after cup of blubber oil, which rose high in the pan for hours while they waited, futilely, for the meat to grow tender enough to eat.
It was possibly the first, and certainly the last, attempt the minister made to flee from his proper routine of prayers and pot roasts, pot roasts and prayers.