I’m still not sure why I was home alone that monumental day, but I had graduated from setting the table for dinner to making the meal by myself.
Everyone had chores to do at Gram’s house. My Aunt Julie, who is six years older than me, had to do the hard ones, like vacuuming. My sister, Lori, had chores, but I never paid attention to what she did. Being the youngest, I had to clean the dust from the cabinets, make the salad for dinner, and help put away the cleaned dishes after dinner.
Julie and Lori took turns making dinner. Gram worked on the assembly line at Avon and dinner was supposed to be ready when she got home. Gram would leave a list of what was for dinner. Sometimes, she let them decided. Today, however, I was allowed to make the decision of what was going to be made. I had graduated from menial tasks, to making the entire meal.
I had already made the salad, and eaten more than half the cucumber in the process, when I moved to making everything else. The hot dogs were easy. I appreciated that Gram had taken them out of the freezer that morning and put them in the fridge. I’m not sure my little hands could have opened the package if they had remained frozen. I suppose Gram probably envisioned me attempting to open a package of frozen hot dogs with a knife ending in blood as a factor in her decision to put them in the refrigerator instead.
I liked eating hot dogs at Gram’s house. She grew up during the depression and often when with store brand or whatever was cheapest in most everything. Hot dogs, however, had to be Oscar Meyer. I hated the hot dogs my mom bought. We were poor, so she got the super cheap, crappy tasting ones that cost a dime a package when they were on sale.
I chucked the hot dogs in a pot of water. I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to boil the water first, so I didn’t do it. I don’t think it mattered anyway.
I opened the freezer and realized six-year old me could reach the door handle to pull it open, but I couldn’t reach anything inside. The big step stool was in Gram’s sewing room. I dragged it out, passing through the bathroom and back into the kitchen. I was sure the black smudges I left on the kitchen floor was something Julie could easily clean.
I climbed the steps so I could see into the freezer and pulled out a package of frozen peas. I dropped the package on the floor, closed the door to the freezer, and got off the stool. I put it back away before returning to the peas.
My arm strength wasn’t great enough to break up the peas, which had become one big clump in the freezer. I dropped the package of peas back on the floor and stomped on it a few times. When I picked the package back up, I could feel the peas had loosened up a bit.
The package was too tough to pull apart with my arms. I wasn’t supposed to use the kitchen scissors without someone older than me around. Julie and Lori weren’t around. I went into my colored pencil box and pulled out the lefty scissors Gram had bought me. I cut open the package and poured the peas into a pot.
Gram had left her small, one-step stool in front of the stove. It was just enough for me to be able to reach the stove and cook. I put the pot of peas on the left hand side of the stove and checked on the hot dogs. They were boiling so I turned them off and put them on the back burner where the tea kettle was supposed to be. Against Gram’s orders, I had put it on the counter. The tea kettle always remained on the stove, but I couldn’t think of where else to put it.
I knew I was supposed to put water in the pot with the peas, but didn’t know how much. I read the package. It didn’t say how much. I needed some help or else dinner wouldn’t be ready when Gram got home.
Picking up the one-step stool, I headed over to the telephone. I stood on the stool, picked up the receiver to the black, rotary dial phone and called my mom at work. I was only supposed to call in emergencies. I was sure this was one.
“What’s wrong?” Mom said.
“I don’t know how much water to put in with the peas,” I said. “There’s lots of frozen ice from the package, but I don’t know if I need more.”
I knew when water froze it made ice. I also knew how cool it looked when you poured water over ice and the ice turned back into water.
“Well, you need to cover the peas with water,” she said. “How much ice is there?”
“Oh there’s tons and tons,” I said.
“If there’s that much, then that should be enough to cook with,” she said.
Confident I had my answer, I hung up the phone. The stool and myself returned to the kitchen. I turned the burner on and started to watch the ice turn into water. Then, it happened.
I heard the opening of the show. “Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman. All the world is waiting for you, and the power you possess, In your satin tights, fighting for your rights, and the old red white and blue.”
“Crap,” I said. How could I forget she was on? My little brain was overwhelmed. I hopped off the stool. With the stirring spoon in hand, I headed toward the living room. I stopped partway. I was supposed to be cooking dinner. But Wonder Woman was on. But I needed to cook dinner. But it’s my favorite show after Woody Woodpecker.
I leaned back and forth between my feet as I tried to make a decision. Whose bright idea was it to put a six-year old in charge of making dinner anyway? I quickly checked the peas and decided it would be a while before the ice melted. I could go watch a couple of minutes of Wonder Woman and check on the peas when a commercial came on.
Standing in front of the television, I folded my arms, careful to keep the spoon away from my clothes so I could still use it to stir the peas. The opening credits were just ending.
“Phew. Made it.” I watched the show intently. Wonder Woman was kicking ass as usual. A thought ran through my head to check on the peas, but it had only been a minute or two. The peas would be fine. I moved and swayed just like Wonder Woman did as she blocked bullets with her bracelets. Then, I heard a familiar voice.
“Irene,” Gram said. “Are you paying attention to dinner?”
Gram wasn’t supposed to be home yet. She must be early. My thoughts deceived me.
“Yes,” I said. I ran back into the kitchen. Smoke was coming from the stove. I didn’t know why. Gram turned off the burner under the peas.
“Did you put enough water in the pan?” Gram said.
“Yes,” I said. My voice beamed with confidence. “I used the ice that was in the package.”
Gram sighed heavily. It was the kind of sigh usually followed by yelling and/or punishment.
“You need to put in way more water than that,” she said. “I will show you how to do it this weekend.”
“Can we still eat them?” I said.
“Of course,” she said. We didn’t waste food if we could avoid it. “Where’s Julie and Lori?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Okay,” Gram said. “Put dinner on the table.”
Gram went upstairs to change out of her work clothes. When she returned, we sat down to eat together. Julie and Lori knew what time dinner was. Gram wasn’t going to go and track them down.
We ate the salad I made first.
“Little light on the cucumber,” Gram said.
“Maybe they fell to the bottom of the bowl,” I said.
“Uh huh,” Gram said.
We often couldn’t afford hot dog buns, but Gram had taught me a good work around. I took a piece of bread and sliced it in half. Next, the hot dog got sliced down the line grooved on it and was placed flat onto one half of the bread. Gram and I shared a slice of cheese, which we put on top of the hot dog. Oscar Meyer cheese dogs hadn’t been invented yet. A squirt of ketchup was next and the other half of the bread was placed on top, creating a makeshift sandwich.
Some of the peas were black. Some were brown. Some were green. They were all hard. In between bites, Gram asked me about my day, if I had practiced my drums yet, and if I had finished my homework. When we were finished, Gram put our dishes in the sink. I didn’t have to help with dishes. Whoever cooked didn’t have to do dishes. Whenever Julie and Lori got home, they would do them.
Gram went into the living room and turned up NBC Nightly News. I sat down on the couch and watched with her.
I would make dinner again. I always made sure to drown my vegetables in water when cooking them. Gram made sure Wonder Woman was not on during those nights.