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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 9b
Hamburger Gravy

Who sat where at the small kitchen table had never been discussed. It happened naturally, as it had at all such tables for generations. Mom sat nearest the stove and sink to better serve the meal and clear the table, and Dad took the other end where he could watch, eyes wide, as the meal covered the tablecloth one pot or hot dish at a time.

He pressed the blue gingham with both his open palms and smiled, "You really did a nice job with this, Honey."

"It was nothing really--just a few hems. Can you take this hot pad and put it under the skillet? I'll put the potatoes over here and get the milk."

Mom grabbed a quart of milk from the box outside the door and poured Dad a tall glass, removing the lid from the hamburger dish as she left. She did not see it, but Dad looked into the pan as if something was missing. Mom sat down and handed Dad the mashed potatoes. He took a hefty serving and pressed the back of the serving spoon in the clump to make a "lake" for the gravy. He then put two palm-pressed hamburger patties beside the potatoes, and looked around the table and then at the stove.

"Where's the gravy?" he asked innocently enough.

"Very funny." Mom said, through a small bite of food. "Whoever heard of hamburger gravy?"

Mom did not mean to sound sarcastic. She really thought Dad was joking. He wasn't, and without thinking he mimicked her lightly dismissive tone.

"Whoever heard of hamburger and onions without gravy?"

"I make gravy with a roast, but I've never made it with hamburger. Why do you need gravy?"

He pointed at the hole in his potatoes. "What do you think that's for."

She pointed at her potatoes, which were oozing melted margarine. "I've seen you use butter on your potatoes."

"Only if there's no gravy."

"Well, there's no gravy so here." She handed him the butter dish.

Dad sliced a small raft of butter to cast off in his mashed-potato lake. Staring down, fork poised, he waited for the yellow square to melt. Mom had not yet learned that there are worse things in a conversation than gaps of silence, and she spoke again in a tone that could... well... melt butter, which was not a bad idea.

"Honestly, Don, I'm sorry, but I've never even heard of hamburger gravy. My mom never made it."

They sat in silence. Gaps in conversation are one thing... silence that can't be cut by words is another. Dad just sat there watching his butter melt. To this day, Mom doesn't know what he was thinking, but her brother-in-law, my Uncle Jack, later told her that Dad didn't know much about "handling a woman." Jack warned her that it took his brother a long time to think of the right things to say or do. Maybe this was one of those times. Maybe not. Maybe he was thinking with his disappointed taste buds. If so, he got over it, and finally spoke up.

"It's no big deal, Honey. Everyone has their own way of doing things. That's what recipes are for. It's not like there's a right or wrong way." There. Textbook tact right out of Beginner Husband 101. In fact, it sounded so good as he said it that Dad saw no harm in adding, "Why don't you call my mom and ask her for her hamburger gravy recipe. I think she just adds water and flour and lets it simmer. It's delicious."

"I never said I could cook as well as your mother."

"I'm not saying you don't."

"Well, why did you bring her up?"

"I didn't. You said your mother never made hamburger gravy, and I said my mom does."

"And then you said 'It's delicious' so I guess this isn't."

"I didn't say that," Dad bit a quick forkful of the muffin-like patty and pointed at his chewing mouth. "This is very good hamburger. I said her hamburger gravy was good."

"Not good. You said it was delicious..."

"Fine, but I did not say your meal was not delicious."

"You might as well have."

"Honey, the world is full of delicious things, and they can all be delicious at the same time-- completely independent of each other. I simply suggested that you call her and ask how to make it. I'm not saying call her right now... it's too late this time. Call her next time."

"Too late, huh? So this meal is... just beyond hope."

"I meant too late to make gravy. You can't make gravy now."

"I'm never making this again with or without gravy," Mom said stabbing her fork in the clump of round meat, "It's dry."

"Well, that's where the gravy helps." Dad said with another bite.

"So you think it's dry?" Mom challenged.

"I did not say it was dry. You said that." He quickly chomped another large bite from his fork, pointing at his chewing mouth. "See. I didn't say it was dry."

Dad had, however, overplayed the moment. His mouth was too full. His cheek and tongue and teeth which had worked together as a chewing team for 21 years could barely manage the double load, and his face contorted slightly as he reached for his glass of milk.

"See! It is dry!" Mom wailed.

"Only because there's no gravy. Just call my Mom. It can't be that hard to make."

"Ohhhh.... It's so simple even I can make it, eh?" She burst into tears and ran into their room, slamming the door behind her.

The silence that went unnoticed earlier when Mom wondered what he was thinking…now rang in his ears. He looked at his watch. About two minutes had passed since he sat down to the new gingham tablecloth. "How did this happen?" he thought, taking a bite of buttered potatoes. "See. I don't mind butter on my potatoes," he said out loud. He took another forkful of hamburger. "I'm still eating. It's very good." he said toward the bedroom.

On the other side of the door. Mom was also talking out loud to herself. "It can't be that hard," she said in a belittling tone Dad hadn't used. "Booshwa!" she muttered, which throughout her life was her pet and ultimate expletive. She went to the closet, pulled out the suitcase she hadn't touched since returning from Washington DC, and threw it on the bed.

Back at the table, Dad reviewed his afternoon at work. His boss, Jim Curley, had taken a moment to show him a better way to coil a 100’ extension cord so it wouldn't tangle as he unwound it at the next job. Dad thanked him for the tip and laughed, "I wish Ida known this when I started climbing poles." He'd already practiced the technique twice. Dad took a deep breath and let it out through his nose. "Show a women a better way to coil a cord," he thought, "and she’ll say, ‘I thought you liked the way I tied my extension cords.' Then she'll throw it to the ground and run off crying."

The bedroom door opened wide. With her head held high Mom crossed the kitchen as if it were a stage. At the top of the apartment entry stairs was a coat closet where she kept the dresses that would not fit in the small bedroom closet. In her heart she knew these were the least essential things to throw into a suitcase, but when you're playing to an audience of one, you sometimes have to improvise. She gently slipped each dress from the old wooden hangers and carried them back to their room. An awkward flick of her foot shut the door, but it did not stay closed.

Dad shook his head at the empty hangers then stared at open the door. He put down his fork, and slowly walked across the worn linoleum. There would come a time when he would know true anger. There would come a time when it would show. There would come time, he knew, when he would clearly be wrong, but in this moment he felt nothing but confused. He leaned against the door jamb without stepping into the room.

"Bev, I don't know what's going on here. I know we're going to have fights sometimes, but I'm just not ready for our first big fight to be about hamburger gravy."

"Well, you picked the topic. I never even heard of it." Mom pulled a handful of wadded hankies from a drawer and blew her nose loudly. "I just want to go home." She pressed the little suitcase buttons outward with her thumbs, and the brass clasps sprang up with a dull rattle.

“First of all... You are home, but if you’re going back to your parent's house, you'd better have a lot better story than this. You can't run home over hamburger gravy. This isn't even a good fight. I don't know what this is, but we've got to agree that when it happens we're not going to start pulling out suitcases."

"Is it, Don? Is this home, because it doesn't feel like home no matter what I do."

Those were the first words in this exchange that hurt him.

"Well, if that's how you feel, Bev. Don't let me stop you, but so help me...if that's all it takes to send you packing, don't bother coming back." The last four words fell like tossed change on the floor. There was no more heart in them than there was in the packing charade that Mom had begun, but neither of them made another sound until Mom plopped on the side of the bed and bawled.

"Don, I don't want to go home. I want to be home. It's not you; it's me. I feel like we're just playing house, and I'm not very good at it. I'm no good at decorating. I'm no good at cooking. I'm no good at..."

"Shhhhh...." Dad put his finger on her lips. "Stop talking like that. You're doing just fine in all departments."

"I wanted everything to be perfect..." she smiled still sniffling.

"Perfect? Hmmm. Let me see... I remember the part about 'for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health'... but I don't remember anything about perfect. If it helps any... I miss that home feeling, too, sometimes... it'll come. It's like love... it takes time."

He began to close the suitcase, but saw something in the side pocket. It was one of the extra toothbrushes he purchased while trying to buy something else before the honeymoon.

"We keep finding those in the strangest places," Mom laughed.

Dad put the suitcase back in the closet. "How 'bout if you hang up those dresses while I start the dishes?"

"Okay," Mom used the hanky again, but her eyes smiled above it.

Dad cleared the table and washed the dishes, but Mom was still in the bedroom, talking out loud again. "Now what?" Dad thought as he towel-dried the last plate and walked to the bedroom door where he saw Mom talking on the phone. She had a pen and paper in her hands, and she seemed to be repeating what was told to her.

"Oh...green peppers, too, or mushrooms if I have 'em. That does sound good. No...not a cold. Just the sniffles. Thanks for asking. I'm fine. One more thing. After you add the water, do you turn up the heat?... Low and slow. Don't scald. No rush. Keep lid on. Stir occasionally... And how long does it cook?... Long as it takes to come together... then simmer 'til served... Got it."

Mom jotted down every word.

(Hamburger Gravy Update 9-26-07: Out of curiosity, I Googled "Hamburger Gravy" and got 714,000 references--including hamburgergravy.com (a domain that's for sale the low, low price of $500).This post is among those listed there. I had no idea I was writing on such a popular topic with so many recipes--or that Patterns of Ink posts could be Googled. Just think, if the internet had been there for Mom, she wouldn't have called her mother-in-law, and she could have had hundreds of recipes to choose from.... I'm glad the internet was not there. Anything that helps bridge the gap between newlyweds and in-laws is a good thing! =)


Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

You have a good ear for dialogue too. Isn't funny how the best intentions, where you try your hardest to please your mate, can often turn into a blowout. Hey, even I have heard of hamburger gravy. Not too sure about the green peppers though.

16/9/07 11:57 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

I forgot "it" of course. Between "Isn't" and "funny."

16/9/07 11:58 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I'm still up tweaking and spell-checking. Surprised you found this so soon. Thanks for the encouragement. I struggle some with tag lines, etc. I'd almost rather right a play. I had this "sort of done" a few days ago, but I wasn't happy with the tone. I like it better now. It was one of those "boom" out of nowhere fights that was more a symptom of Mom's insecurity in her role than anything else. There was no "I quit" in Mom's actions, she just needed some assurance.
Thanks, JR.

17/9/07 12:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hamburger gravy!!! One of my favorite "comfort foods"!! I will make it along with the mashed potatoes in the cold months! I have never put in green peppers but that's an idea!
I'm loving ready this by the way!

17/9/07 8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spell-check!!! I should have said I'm loving "reading" this!!

17/9/07 8:09 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Tom- I remember feeling that way as a new bride 32 years ago. You presented the young bride's emotional side perfectly (not the norm for most men, sorry to be sexist here, I hope I'm not opening a can of gravy- I mean worms...)! I'm not sure my husband ever understands some of my sudden outbursts even now but we have learned to embrace our differences, which makes for a loving lifetime relatationship.

I am so enjoying this love story and anxiously check each day to see if you have a new chapter. Thanks for sharing with your readers and for taking the time to make it perfect. Again, let me express how lucky your wife is and how special your mom is to have raised a sentimental son intune with others emotions.

17/9/07 9:46 AM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Tom, this is really, really, really good. Your attention to the smallest detail makes it come alive in the imagination. For instance, your dad making a lake in his potatoes to receive the gravy that wasn't available. I liked that.

I burst out laughing when you said, "With her head held high Mom crossed the kitchen as if it were a stage." I loved that. It points to the melodrama involved in this story. Your mom would have never walked out that door, I bet you.

I'm with your mom on the hamburger gravy. I've never heard of it. But I think I want the recipe. Can you post it here? (Just kidding.)

The couple who never experiences an occasional spat in their marriage misses out on the joy of making up.

I am struggling with the final segment of my twins story. Plus I have been having problems off and on with my Broadband connection again which slows me up when I need to do research.

Looking forward to your next post about your parents and the early part of their marriage.

17/9/07 11:23 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

A friend of mine asked me a while back what the term “comfort food” meant. The best example I can think of is Cracker Barrel—that’s comfort food. It’s food that feels like home, and that was what Mom was trying to do that night. She knew Hamburger and onions was one of Dad’s favorites—what she failed to remember was that there’s more to the recipe than the title. By the way, this was not the thick brown gravy with ground beef that many school cafeterias serve. (That is good comfort food, too.) This is a sort of white gravy with onions, green peppers (which I don’t like in large amounts) and mushrooms over palm-pressed patties and potatoes. I had it many times as a child. I didn’t like it until I was much older.

Whatever understanding I have of “life with females” I owe to Mom (who has provided much insight for this story), living with my older sister for 22 years, and then spending the next couple decades in a house full of wonderful little women. (We’ve had two male dogs, but they were neutered…so I guess they don’t count.) My wife is sitting beside me in our reclining love seat this very minute. If I were to show her your compliment, she would probably laugh and say, “They are times you’re right Nancy, but give me your phone number, we need to talk!” and she’d be right. Describing the distinction in how men and women think (or “emote”) is one thing… remembering it in our own day-to-day drama is another. Oops! Julie just read this. She is laughing. =)

My mom used to tap dance in USO shows and sing on the radio during the war, etc. so she did sometimes have a flair for the dramatic—especially when she was upset or sad about something. To this day, she can laugh and cry with meaning. Dad on the other hand, was more analytical. He could be very patient and methodical and take things in a stride (mostly). Mom was social. Dad was quiet. Mom emotional—Dad more rational. It was a funny home to grow up in, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I’m confident you’re right. Mom didn’t really want to pack up and go, but Dad putting his foot down early on took that option right off the table for the rest of their lives… so in that sense, this was a very worthwhile spat. =)

Be patient with yourself on your next chapter about the lost twins. Let it simmer... it will come. =)

17/9/07 4:44 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Today if it doesn't come out of a jar or can't be microwaved then it can't be cooked. Ah progress, what a taste treat food has become in the new world order of things.



18/9/07 6:29 AM  
Blogger beachgirl said...

That reminds me of some of the goings on in my fist apartment after we got married. I do believe it was over food. Or too much of it. I was used to cooking for 6 people, not 2. And cooking was not my forte.
I used to use a can of brown gravy over ground meat over potatoes. I used to tell the kids it was alpo. They loved it. Comfort food.

Have an awesome day.

18/9/07 7:17 AM  
Blogger Cris said...

LOL. Your poor dad, he just couldn't win could he? Of course, I am fully capable of admitting that we women can sometimes be confusing when it comes to our emotions and then we expect men just to "get it". I too had to laugh a bit at their little spat. Jay and I have certainly had our share of those and it just reminded me of them. But the one that sticks out most in my mind was this one time that I asked Jay how I looked. I think we were going out on a date that night and I was trying to look nice for him and he just simply said "fine". I asked him what he meant by "fine" and it sort of took off from there. It didn't quite reach the point where I was willing to pack my bags, but Jay did finally get the point and now he only says it when he wants to be a pain in the keister. LOL.

18/9/07 11:55 AM  
Blogger EA Monroe said...

Tom, I need to get over here and get caught up on your chapters! I remember my mom coming over and teaching me how to make a stew. Haven't ever made hamburger gravy though, but it sounds good! I always liked to put sweet peas in my mashed potato lake (if there were any sweet peas).

I'm glad I'm not the only one who numbers chapters 9a and 9b. Did you mean to have the next to last paragraph in there twice?

This is an enjoyable story, Tom! I need to get busy writing.

18/9/07 1:06 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

In my entire life I have never had hamburger gravy. Meatballs and gravy but never hamburger. I have had the kind of non fight described here with Betty. You did a great job of catching the feelings.

18/9/07 5:53 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You're right, Mark. Things have gotten much easier. We had chicken pot pie tonight. From scratch? Of course not... from Sam's Club. It was really good. I don't know if "TV Dinners" were marketed in yet in 1951, but I do know Mom and Dad did not yet have a TV. Back then, they were still relatively new. Some people had 'em, some didn't. I do know my dad would have never settled for TV dinner back then.

You called it Alpo and they still liked it? =) I've heard a worse name for it in the military, and the kids called it that when my old high school cafeteria used to serve it, but I tell you what... we all loved it. Mom's was different that that meal.

"Fine" is a word that just doesn't cut it unless you say it with a lot of innuendo... otherwise it sounds like you're saying "good enough." Julie and I were going to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for a license plate last week. As we go to the door, she says, "Does this outfit look okay." I said, "Honey, we're going to the DMV. Who's gunna care there?" I should have just said, "You can't help but look beautiful." Men are slow learners.

Yes, the ol' Chapter A and B trick. It was all on one day and probably should be one day. In a book, A and B together would not be that long, but on a blog I decided to break it up. (Besides B wasn't quite done to my liking. I wanted the conflict, but as Mom described it to me it was all smoke and no fire, so I didn't want to overwrite it.)

Thanks for the heads up on the double paragraph. That happened last night, not in the original post. Oops!

Dr. John,
I'll bet very few people who read here know what a "PASTY" is, but as you know they're served all over the U.P. This meat pie dish is a favorite in northern Michigan and should not be confused with anything actually pasted on something. =)

18/9/07 7:45 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

If you want to see a Pasty being made, go here.
This dish is very popular up where Dr. John lives in Michigan's U.P.

18/9/07 7:48 PM  
Blogger leslie said...

Ah, I was sitting in that bedroom with your wife feeling just the same sense of failure! I always get choked up reading this story. So touching. Waiting for more...

18/9/07 10:31 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Love the story as usual, some things really don't change, do they? When we were younger, my husband and I used to have these disagreements often. Now, we know each other much better and when one makes a dumb statement, we can most times make a joke about it and try not to get mad.

Oh yeah, and now I really want a pasty! I love them!

Julie B.

19/9/07 6:19 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You typed "with your wife" and meant "with your mom," but I'm sure there are some universal feelings here that apply to all wives.
It is very rewarding to hear you refer to this series of chapters as a story. It started out as a single post by this title, a "short story" if you will. I haven't even gotten to that part yet. (The best is yet to come.)
It has been fun to imerse myself in a time and setting I was not old enough to know with two characters that I know very well. I can hear their voices and see their faces as I write. Thanks for sticking with it.

Julie B,
Sometimes we say that two people "never fight," but I think what happens is what you've said. You learn how to avoid conflict, choose battles, and confront in love over time...and when you don't... you're probably going to be in a spat, but it is a good practice not to "let the sun go down on your wrath."
You have to head north to get the good pasties. =). That website above actually ships them to people all over the country.

19/9/07 8:14 PM  
Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

POI: I enjoyed this story very much. I do so like the way you handle dialogue. I'm trying to learn from you. And loved the topic!

20/9/07 5:14 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I love what JulieB said. It explains perfectly why some couples have long, happy, fullfilling marriages and other fail. Tom your quote on "don't let the sun go down..." is just perfect- for all relationships.

The reason I had to come back and leave another comment is that I never heard of a "pasty"... I did go to the web site and saw a photo of them making one but what is that "stuff" in the middle of that thing. I guess I will just have to place an order and hope for the best because you really have my curiosity up. In the south we don't have "them thangs"! Hamburger gravy- yes, pasties- no.

A pasty in the south is something a women wears when she doesn't want to wear a bra with a fancy, strapless, tight fitting outfit... it keeps others from noticing she is braless- especially when it gets cold! Now ponder on that for a "spell"!

20/9/07 9:50 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

P.S. To the above comment; pasties are even used in "Gentlemen's Clubs" where the women wear no tops at all. In this case, they are often decorative and may have jewels or other embellishments attached to them. I do not know this first hand but this is what I have been told. So how's that for a new take on a "pasty"!

21/9/07 1:11 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, Donnetta,
I haven't done much of this sort of writing, but I am enjoying it. It helps that I heard much of these stories over and over through the years (told by both my mom and dad, so I can hear their voices in the dialogue.

If you go back to my first mention of the word "pasty" you'll see that I clarify it should not be confused with anything actually pasted on something. If you order some of these delicious meat pies on-line, make sure you get the right thing. =)

We were camping for a few days, enjoying the last day of summer. I posted about it above. Chapter 10 is in the hopper. Should be ready to post soon.

23/9/07 6:25 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

great reading tom, right down to the tiniest details. i purposely have waited a while so i can have a few chapters to read at one time. now on to the next.

one of my first meals with my husband, he said, "why don't you do it like this, my mother does it like this." i said, "well go and let your mother cook for you then." long story short, never any more food problems; however, he did do most of the cooking. hmmmm, i used to think he liked to cook and was just helping out, but now i wonder. *lol*

30/9/07 5:55 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks for your patience. It is kind of hard reading a slowly unrolling plot. I may put it all together in the right order when I'm all done with it.
It sounds like you had more confidence tham my mom did in her early years. She eventually felt comfortable speaking the truth when she needed to, but at first they were both sort of funbling through the script.

11/10/07 9:24 PM  

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