If there was a worse cook than me in the mid-seventies, I don't know her. When I got married, I knew how to make absolutely nothing. I'd made Kraft macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches. I'd heated up Campbell's soup on the stove. Why was I so inept? I simply never cared. I had a mom who cooked dinner.
I also rarely ate actual food that didn't tumble out of a vending machine. My parents owned a business that had magazine racks in the lobby and cigarette machines and spinning candy dispensers; not to mention cold eight-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola. Thus, I read every movie rag available and rotted my teeth on chocolate and developed a life-long nicotine habit. My sixteen-year-old dietary regimen consisted of menthol cigarettes, Seven-Up candy bars and sickeningly sweet Coke and Dr. Pepper. Not to mention refreshing Fresca, which contained enough saccharine to hobble an African elephant. Regrets? I have a few.
But cooking? That was so passe. Old women (in their forties) did that. I was young and hip and liberated. I had pantyhose and polyester mini-skirts and long swinging hair and Cover Girl makeup. I had the Grass Roots on my transistor radio. Aside from the candy, I really didn't eat. I smoked a lot and hid the black plastic ash tray under my bed. Sometimes I drank a can of beer, if I was able to procure one. I was still pseudo-religious, so I gave up snacks for Lent, which meant I essentially ate nothing, since snacks were my only source of nourishment. My teenage years were a cornucopia of excess, as if life was tenuous. And it was, then.
At age eighteen, when it was deemed that life was passing me by, I became engaged. My fiance and I trudged the mobile home lots in the dead of winter to find a suitable home we could afford. Renting was not even a flitting thought. No one we knew actually rented except for my friend Alice II, and her apartment was only a brief stopover until she, too, became married and bought her own mobile home. We perused a few units, clambering the wrought-iron stair steps of each; and they were all essentially the same ~ except for the one that had a kitchen floor of black and white geometric linoleum. I became fixated on that floor, and no other selection would do. We purchased our first home based upon pretty flooring. The color scheme of the remainder of the home was burnt orange and lime green ~ long-stranded shag carpeting. And we didn't even yet own an upright vacuum cleaner. We hoped to secure one as a wedding gift. We owned absolutely nothing except the console stereo my parents wanted to be rid of.
Around '75 we splurged on a microwave oven. Mom and Dad had a microwave, a monstrous behemoth that claimed almost all the kitchen retail space.
It was good for almost nothing, but like halter tops and leisure suits, it was the thing to do. It defrosted ground beef defectively, but it did work for boiling water. There were no prepared foods created exclusively for microwaves, so using the noisy apparatus was trial and error...mostly error. Major companies did have the foresight to market special ceramic serving dishes exclusively for microwaves, so there was that expense (we were scared to use paper plates ~ they might burst into flame). There was also the niggling dread that these "waves" could potentially poison anyone who consumed anything nuked in them, but we were young and indestructible, so we took our chances.
I eventually learned how to cook ~ in fact, I became more and more adventurous as the months ticked by. I shed my fear of electric appliances and began experimenting. It wasn't so hard after all! As unschooled as I was, I developed an affinity for Chinese cooking (and we didn't even own a wok). Like every other thing in life, cooking is scary until one actually tries.
My black-and-white linoleum required a weekly pan of Spic 'n Span and sore knees to maintain. I still liked it, though. It was the centerpiece of my home. Everything else in my trailer was shit, but I had that floor!
I was learning how to be a grown-up, bit by bit. It wasn't necessarily by choice, but it was time. I also was learning about poverty and how to make a life out of nothing. Our first Christmas tree was a two-foot-high plastic proxy for the real thing that I set on an end table and trimmed with decorations I fashioned out of folded paper. I scoured my checkbook daily to determine if money existed with which to buy groceries. Benevolent gifts from parents saved us from starving.
But I had music. That hand-me-down console stereo in the living room kept me company as I "housewifed". Memory is a funny thing ~ when we think about music, we cull the charts for those tracks that are timeless, but that's not how music actually worked in real time. These are the songs I remember:
In retrospect, aside from America, the hit songs of '75 were kind of mopey. No wonder I spent a lot of time staring into the abyss that was my shiny new, scary microwave oven.
1975 was the last time I could label myself a "kid", albeit a married kid. The last time I would prioritize music over everything. Before long, a completely new experience would change my life forever.
In the meantime, I did have that floor....
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