So, we got married on a Saturday. I started grad school on a Monday. In the space where the honeymoon was supposed to go, we instead went on a cruise through Pittsburgh rush hour traffic, Karry riding shotgun to make sure I didn’t get lost.
We launched our new life from the world’s tiniest apartment. Four rooms atop a two-car garage. Bathroom so tight that you couldn’t use the toilet without bumping your knees against the tub.
If we’d consciously based our career choices on trying to make the least amount of money possible, it wouldn’t have looked much different than the English (his) and Social Work (hers) majors whose accompanying student loans kept our hearts and home humble.
With her working full-time and me going to school full time and balancing a research assistantship and a part-time job working nights at the paper, we were often two ships passing in the night. On the rare occasions our schedules intersected, we kept things simple. We put our own spin on dinner and a movie.
Finding ourselves spent and spat out after a long week, we quickly settled on our go to meal: frozen fish sticks drenched in Heinz ketchup accompanied by heaping piles of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. Washed down with Cokes over ice. When we were feeling fancy, we’d crack open a can of Bush’s Baked Beans for a three-course meal. I took care in evenly distributing the sticks. She’d always insist I take extra. We’d pass the dining room table en route to the living room so we could sit on the floor and watch re-runs of the Six Million Dollar Man (because it was on, and, um, it was awesome).
We’d go for seconds during the commercials.
Last Friday night, rains washed out the creek that floods just about every option to our house. I was on my commute home, oblivious, when Karry called to navigate me home. Take the Jessop Exit, hop on Chestnut by The Tower …. Come up behind Hill House….
Twenty-two years in, my co-pilot still makes sure I don’t get lost.
Pulled the car in the driveway, came up the stairs, and spied her in our tiny kitchen, spent and spat out by a long week.
Neither she nor the breath of a warm oven able to keep a secret.
I plucked the scent from the air, quickly stole a glance at the stove … a boiling pot and the empty blue box of next to it. Behind the boiling pot, a smaller one warming a fresh can of baked beans.
She was feelin’ fancy.
An involuntary smile broke wide across my cheeks.
“Emma doesn’t believe you’re going to eat it, but I set her straight.”
We’ve graduated from a tiny apartment to a tiny house. A kitchen too small for a dishwasher; the nightly sinkfull still keeping our hearts and home humble.
When the timer of our old Brady Bunch oven buzzed, I took care to evenly distribute the fish sticks onto our paper plates. She insisted I take extra. We made room for heaping piles of Kraft and a couple spoonfulls of Bush’s. Poured Cokes over ice.
“Go find us some Six Million Dollar Man,” Karry said as a joke, forgetting that she’d bought me a DVD collection a couple years ago for Christmas.
I fished it out (pun regretted), unopened, from the shelves in the living room.
“No way,” she said.
I dialed up the epic two-part episode from Season 3: The Secret of Bigfoot (starring Andre the Giant as Sasquatch). We sat on the living room floor.
It was as cheesy as the Kraft … and every bit as awesome.
We paused the DVD when we needed to go back for seconds.
For years, we’d always both smile and blush at the remembrance of our “signature” meal.
Last Friday it was only smiles, no blush.
After years of searching in vain for the recipe for a long relationship, I think I’ve finally realized that the secret has nothing to do with any recipe.
Because when one has fish sticks in the freezer, and Kraft in the cupboard, one does not need a recipe.
The secret is in remembering to occasionally pause the DVD to go back for seconds.