Gary comes in with a box, carrying it carefully, like there’s something precious inside, a baby. His care always catches my heart. We peer into the box together; it’s from his mother….a container of pasta salad made of little multicolored spirals with olives I think, six inches of ribs leftover from some restaurant meal, a 12-inch foil-wrapped log of Stromboli, some potato salad in that orange Tupperware container from the seventies with the lid that never stays on, a Ziploc of honeydew wedges.
I pull things out as we consult, our heads bent over the box. The Stromboli is half defrosted because she wanted just a piece, Gary explains. Can we re-freeze? My mind is already at work calculating how we will work with this bounty, incorporate it into the big plan. I’m in the midst of putting together a farmer’s market casserole recipe from Christine, using up a Flintstone club of a squash from Peter’s garden, plus a few of his zucchini and pole beans so delicious we practically cried over them the night before. I’ve got tomatoes from Gary’s dad’s garden, and I picked up a bag of tiny potatoes — red, white and purple. I’ll throw in slices of carrots and green beans, maybe chopped kale if I can cram it in. Layer on slices of onion.
So much good stuff. As I thought through the casserole components, in my mind I heard Christine’s voice from 20 years ago when she gave me the cookbook, calling this recipe out as perfect for cleaning out the refrigerator, throwing in any free-floating asparagus spear or random carrot she comes across. Sprinkle each layer with salt, pepper and thyme. Douse it with wine, dot it with butter and when it’s almost done sprinkle it with torn pieces of hearty bread sautéed in butter and a hefty grating of parmesan. We’ll have Christine’s casserole tonight to go with the ribeye Gary will grill, saving the pasta and potato salad for the Labor Day BBQ we’re having with Ellen and Shuma and Gabriel tomorrow. When it’s all over, I’ll send them off with wedges of leftover strawberry pie.
I go back to my wine and chopping and Gary goes out to the living room to play guitar and watch golf and suddenly I’m reminded of “Wife Wooing,” a John Updike story about a man going out into the wild and the weather and coming home with bags of burgers and fries like a modern-age hunter and how there is that same feel to the way Gary comes in the door with boxes of food from his mother, so many times now, and how we always put our heads together, pawing through the treasures, making plans about when we will eat this and how I will use that.
As I think about “Wife Wooing” and listen to Gary play the guitar, drinking my wine and chopping the beautiful vegetables we will eat together in just a little while, I’m reminded of another one I loved, Gary Snyder’s poem, “After Work,” about a man coming in from the cold into the kitchen rich with the smells of chopped garlic and cooking meat, and how he reaches up under the shirt of the woman in this poem and warms his cold hands on her breasts, and they laugh and drink wine, waiting for the stew.
This seemed to me the loveliest sort of love when I was in college reading that poem for the first time, recognizing its intimate, ordinary beautifulness, remembering how I longed for that. I look around at the counter piled with food, Gary out in the living room and our house full of color and music. I think about all of this and wonder how is it that I got so rich, so lucky, to have my life be the story and the poem I longed for? How did I get so lucky to have this bounty?
2007 when Gary and I met – right now
Christine — one of my dearest, longtime friends from the gang of 5, also including Patty, Amy & Kaila
Peter — co-worker
Ellen — daughter
Shuma — son-in-law
Gabriel — grandson