When my husband was 23, he was drafted into the Army, and there was a possibility he would be fighting in the Korean Conflict. They called it a conflict, I think, because World War II hadn’t been over for but eight years and the government probably couldn’t have sold the country on another thing called a war.
But I’m not a political columnist — as you’ve figured out by now — so I’m digressing, because this piece is going to be about cooking.
Sixty years ago, enlisted men didn’t get much choice about what they were going to do in the Army after boot camp unless they had special talents — like a friend of his who played baseball on a military team the whole time he served, or another who wrote for Stars and Stripes.
So Private Robert Anding was told he was going to be a cook, along with other draftees of varying educations and job skills.
A native New Orleanian, he liked his food very well, so cooking and serving in two foreign countries — Arkansas and Texas — that weren’t that far from home was just fine with him.
Six years later, when we met and married, he still liked being in the kitchen and still possessed his army cookbook with its recipes for dishes for 100. He had elevated himself from cook to chef, and to be sure, the cuisine he produced was fancier and finer and fed only two (or four or six or eight when we had dinner guests), but his MO was the same.
“Bobby cooks like he had half a dozen KPs cleaning up after him,” groused Ozzie, a friend and former roommate, as we scrubbed pots and pans while the chef chatted with the guest’s date in the living room.
During our 53 years of marriage, my husband has always grocery shopped for our family, always cooked meals for holidays and for company, and somewhere along the way — probably after I started back to work fulltime — began to make our kitchen his exclusive domain.
“Aren’t you lucky!” gush our lady friends, and indeed I am. But like all blessings, this is a mixed one.
You’ve heard the saying “he who has the most toys wins”? Bobby’s toys are not golf clubs or fishing rods or camping equipment; his are spoons and spatulas, knives and saucepans, double boilers and steamers and whisks and woks and frying pans. And meat thermometers and chafing dishes and whatever there is new under the sun for kitchens. Ours over runneth.
Which got me to thinking about his three-gallon aluminum pot.
Kept in our utility room, it should never come out, I think, except for boiling lobsters, for which it is handy indeed. It’s also just the thing for the gumbo he makes every Christmas Eve to feed our extended family and anyone else it occurs to us to invite to this traditional meal.
But if there are 12 ears of corn to boil, or two of those big cellophane bags of spinach to toss with oil and garlic or a beef stew for six to prepare or Vietnamese pho to mix with lots of bok choy — out it comes. There are plenty of smaller pots to use, I think sullenly as I clean it in a sink into which it barely fits.
The other day I came up with an idea for this pot. Should my husband and I not meet our maker at the same time, if I survive him, who is five years my senior, I will use it for an urn for his cremated ashes. Don’t be surprised if at the memorial service you see a three-gallon aluminum pot in a prominent position adorned with a picture of Bobby and a vase of flowers beside it.
Are you thinking that I’ve crossed a line in writing about these plans? Well, it’s my feeling that about all us older folks can do is joke about the inevitable. It’s called gallows humor, and we Southerners are famous for it.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at email@example.com.