By Karen Brode
I watched as Winnie stood at her kitchen cabinet with a butcher knife in her hand. Beads of sweat were breaking out on her face and it was before noon. She had put the carton of ice milk on the cabinet. She felt very much like a martyr in giving up ice cream for ice milk, but it was the price she paid for being a heavy woman. She had to make efforts to reduce. She couldnt just eat what she wanted, at least not in front of people.
She had seen in a magazine article how pretty the neapolitan ice cream slices were when they were cut with a knife while still in the carton. She liked beautiful presentations of her food as well as the taste of it. She had bought some Neapolitan ice milk and wanted to slice it in two-inch blocks. In the magazine, the ice cream was arranged neatly on the plate. Everyone in the picture who sat around the table seemed to anticipate cutting into the striped ice cream. The woman serving the ice cream was smiling happily that she had been able to slice her ice cream perfectly.
Winnie sighed as the knife sawed unevenly through the ice milk carton. Already, ice milk was beginning to melt and run onto the plate.
Pete came in from outside and said, “How do you expect to cut anything with that knife? When was the last time you sharpened your knives?”
Winnie stared at Pete as if she couldn’t decide whether to be mad or grateful.
“Let me have it.” Pete said, as he turned to get the whetstone.
Winnie wrapped the half-sliced ice milk carton in paper towels and put it in the freezer. She and Pete had bought a freezer for the back porch because the freezer that came with their refrigerator only held a few ice cube trays and didn’t have room for much else. She liked her freezer because she could buy things when they were on sale at the grocery store, and not have to go shopping so often. She had beef wrapped in white freezer paper and chicken parts and hot dogs — all of it in her freezer. Hidden underneath the meat were ice cream bars, ice cream, and some candy bars.
Winnie suddenly remembered the rolls in her toaster oven and she hurried to take them out. She had a potholder that was made into a glove. I thought it was a neat idea to make a potholder shaped like a glove, but it kept Winnie from using the potholders I had made for her. When I asked her why she didn’t use my potholders, she said she wanted to keep them nice because they were so pretty.
The glove potholder was scorched in several places, and when Winnie took out the rolls she ran to the cabinet and plopped them into a waiting basket. She saw that they were burned on the bottom, and she seemed very irritated as she put each roll into the basket. There wasn’t even one that wasn’t black on the bottom.
I had been sitting at the yellow formica kitchen table watching her. My chin was propped in my hands and my feet were swinging.
I couldn’t see anything that I could do and Winnie said, “Make yourself useful as well as ornamental.”
“What do you want me to do,” I asked.
“You can put ice in those glasses.”
Winnie had set out the dark gold glasses that she used for company. I went to the freezer to get the ice trays and Winnie said, “Go wash your hands first!”
When I started to wash my hands at the kitchen sink, Winnie said, “Go in the bathroom!”
She was trying to wash her dishes in the soapy water as they accumulated. She had read in a magazine that this was the most efficient way to do dishes.
Winnie’s bathroom was very small. It had been tacked onto the back of her house as an after-thought. The boards that formed the outside of the original house made up one wall of her bathroom. The window that must’ve looked out of the kitchen into the backyard now looked into the bathroom, so the glass in the window had been painted yellow to create privacy.
I hooked the eye lock at the door, and began to wash my hands. There was something creepy about Winnie’s bathroom, and I didn’t like to go in there. You could barely squeeze between the wall and the shower. I didn’t like showers anyway. I liked a bathtub like I had at home.
After I washed my hands, I went to the towel rack and dried my hands on the nice towel that Winnie had hung that morning. Then, I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to use it, and I turned it around the other way so it would look as if I hadn’t used it.
The ice trays were aluminum with a lever that was supposed to loosen the ice cubes. It took a great deal of strength to make it work, but I could sometimes do it. I ran the ice tray under the water, and then banged it against the sink. I pulled the lever up, and after I removed the divider, the ice cubes were left in the tray. I put two ice cubes in each glass.
“You have to put more ice that that,” said Winnie. “The tea is going to be boiling hot! It’ll melt those ice cubes right away.”
On her table was cornbread, rolls that were black on the bottom, sliced tomatoes, green beans, smothered steak, fried potatoes, green onions from the garden, and fried okra. She stared at it all in a critical way, trying to think if she had left something out.
I had been watching her cook all morning, and I was so hungry. Looking at the food made it harder to wait. Where were those people? Winnie had invited some people from church to come and have lunch with us but they were late.
Pete had come in out of the yard, and had already taken a shower and was dressed in a clean brown jumpsuit. I knew that Pete would be tired after lunch and probably take a nap or work on his crossword puzzles. Winnie would be exhausted after she had gone to this much trouble. She would lie on the couch and snore. The food would be left out on the kitchen table and be covered with a tablecloth so the flies could not get to it.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.