Now, where did I put the herb bouquet? Ah, there it waits on the cornflower blue countertop by the strawberry shaped cookie jar. Once people realize you have a theme to your kitchen, gift giving becomes easier. Just grab something in that theme and you are all set. In my wife Joan’s case we have years of cannisters, glasses, cups, clocks, place settings, magnets, even salt and pepper shakers on display throughout the kitchen. It’s been a sick joke for me because I’m allergic to strawberries.

The bundle of parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf is added to the pearl onions in the red skillet for simmering. Under an hour of cooking time left. I have forty minutes to get the table laid before the final push to the finish line.

First, the table needs a good wipe down. Joan suggested removing the leaves from the table after our youngest got married and moved away. I didn’t want to do it, felt like a death to me, withering the table from oblong to circle. Joan insisted, she wanted an intimate experience during our meals with no room for me to read the paper or for her to work the daily crossword.

Rachel, our youngest with pale blond hair and brilliant blue eyes, is the only one who hasn’t been home in years. She left to follow her husband around the country and the world as he made the military his career. I had my doubts about him before they got married and my opinion of him hasn’t improved over the years. I’m still surprised he managed to get through basic training, somehow, he has worked his way up through the ranks and looks to qualify for a pension when he finally leaves.

I know he hasn’t been a good husband to my little girl, not the husband a father wants. Joan never told me any details. She would just say, “Rachel is the one who has to live with the decision, so she is the one who has to make it. We are just here for her if and when needed.” So far, Rachel’s decision has been to stay with that husband of hers and raise their little girl who is a copy of her mom. Wish there was more to our relationship than phone calls even if we can see each other.

I’ll give the chairs a good wipe down as well, everything must be perfect.

Mary, the oldest with short, chestnut hair and inviting brown eyes, lives the closest and makes a point of coming over at least once a month. I would put the leaves in the table for their visits, but now that her youngest is off at college and her husband is retired, I no longer need to. Can’t say I miss Mary’s husband who was either playing, watching, or talking about golf. I enjoy spending time with Mary again just like before her siblings came along.

I’ll let the table alone for a couple of minutes, make sure it’s dry before I put the tablecloth on.

Melissa, our next oldest and the one most like her mom, does her best to get back once a year either for Thanksgiving or Christmas. She doesn’t have a family, too devoted to her high-powered career in California. She’s never without her phone and spends hours in her bedroom taking meetings and answering emails. Melissa took over our cable, phone, and internet bills several years back, upgrading them beyond what we need.

Now, which drawer is our anniversary tablecloth?

Mark and Paul, the twins though no one would guess by looking at them, coordinate their trips home making a full house when they are here with their families. Those two always did everything together, joined the same clubs in high school, got their medical degrees from the same college, interned at the same hospital. The only thing they weren’t able to do was get hired in the same practice. They live in adjacent states, close enough they can get together on a regular basis. Being in separate practices allows them to plan their vacations together. I always find it a relief when it’s time for them to leave.

It must have been four months after Rachel left Joan picked up this linen tablecloth. It was plain when she bought it. Over the next couple of months in the evening when we watched TV together Joan embroidered flowers on it keeping her supplies in her strawberry themed sewing basket. On our first anniversary celebrated without the kids she spread it on the table and declared it would be our anniversary tablecloth. The kids would always celebrate with us so long as we used the tablecloth.

“How are the kids celebrating with us if they aren’t here?” I asked. Nothing about the tablecloth reminded me of the kids.

“I’ve embroidered the kids birth flowers in the bouquets,” Joan lifted one corner to point at a white flower. “This chrysanthemum is for Mary, Melissa is the violet, Rachel is the rose, and the two larkspurs are the twins.”

“Why is one pink and the other white?”

“You’ll have to learn the language of flowers for that answer.” Joan’s eyes danced drawing me into her the same way she captured me the first day we met in junior high school.

“Who are the two flowers in between the bouquets?”

“Those are for us, dear. We are the daisy and lily-of-the-valley.” Joan winked.

No idea if I’m the daisy or the lily-of-the-valley. I don’t care so long as my flower is entwined with Joan’s.

The next anniversary I presented Joan with a mother’s ring. Joan looked at them in the display cases whenever we passed, but she never said a word. The girl at the jewelry store was helpful, the only other person I ever met that knew people have birth flowers. It was when she asked me what months the kids were born, I realized I had no idea. Joan took care of planning the parties when they were young and getting their cards sent out to them after they left home. Over the years the spouses and grandchildren joined the mailing list. All I had to do was show up or sign when told to.

Joan had me slide her mother’s ring on her hand just like her engagement ring except I didn’t kneel this time. Two rubies acted as bookends for the alexandrite, topaz, and amethyst and easily out shown her wedding ring worn smooth over the years of our marriage. The hand I slipped that wedding ring on had been flawless and smooth, now I slid a mother’s ring on a hand speckled and crepy.

The china the kids gave us for our 50th wedding anniversary only gets an outing on our anniversary. It’s white with gold trim, because of the golden anniversary, and must be handwashed and dried after being used. I long ago made the conversion to using a dishwasher, especially when the house is full. Just this one meal, on one day a year, this china gets to shine.

The Beef Bourguignon’s aroma drifts through the house. Only a few more steps before service. I made Beef Bourguignon for our first anniversary after Rachel left. Thought it was time I showed Joan how much I love her. It’s easy to take each other for granted when you live together for years, especially when you are raising kids. So much time is needed to raise kids right, you don’t always have time left for each other.

Dessert is rice pudding. I like it still warm from the oven; Joan prefers it cold. I made it earlier to give it plenty of time to cool in the fridge.

Onions are done so the herb bouquet goes into the trash, and the onions are removed from the skillet to be set aside while I cook the mushrooms. All that will remain is to separate the stew from its sauce so I can reduce the sauce to a silky smoothness and skim any fat off. Then the moment comes to combine all the ingredients to simmer together for a few minutes.

I carry the turine over to the counter by the stove. Joan purchased it when we agreed my Beef Bourguignon would be our anniversary tradition. It’s white with a clean design, nothing fussy and no strawberries, with a slot in its lid for the ladle. “Your masterpiece needs something beautiful for presentation.” Joan presented it to me before I took over the kitchen and banned her for the rest of the day. I always cook alone, and I insist on cleaning up alone as well.

The full turine takes its pride of place in the middle of the table.

I move the antique silver picture frame holding our wedding photo over to the table. Joan, radiant in her wedding dress, smiles at the camera. I stand beside her looking like a colt that hasn’t mastered use of its legs. I’m smiling at Joan, oblivious to the camera. I was afraid it had been a dream and if I took my eyes off my wife I would wake up and it would all dissipate like fog on a sunny day.

I place the photo where Joan’s place setting should be, making sure it faces my seat.

“Happy anniversary sweetheart.”

February 18, 2021 02:04

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