I was a junior at university but it was the first time I’d had a boyfriend on my birthday. I wasn’t sure what to expect–we hadn’t been dating for very long. He took me out for a lovely dinner date in the next town. En route in the car, he handed me a bulky package wrapped in newspaper. “Sorry I didn’t have any wrapping paper,” he said. I remember feeling so curious: what could he possibly be giving me? I smiled and tore off the paper. It was a metal vegetable strainer. “I heard you say that you wished you had one,” he said.
I then made a big mistake: I thought to myself that I’d chosen an essentially unromantic man. At that moment it didn’t occur to me that his gift reflected a level of thoughtfulness and consideration most unusual in twenty-year old guys. . . that in that circular cage of punctured metal I held a clue to something fundamentally and unchangeably a part of him that was worth holding for a lifetime. All I could think in that moment was that a vegetable strainer is a practical, utilitarian, every-day sort of object, lacking in sparkle and drama. And sparkle and drama, thought my twenty-year-old mind, was the stuff of romance.
That was almost exactly twelve years ago. I am wiser now.
And, thanks to the man I married, I have long known the true nature of romance.
I’m eight months pregnant, resembling nothing so much as an injured and irritable female rhinoceros. I’ve decided that if the living/dining/playing/school room doesn’t get vacuumed immediately no one is eating dinner. I’ve insisted that I must be the one to do it and banished everyone else to the far end of the flat. I’ve gotten out the little plastic vacuum and gone at it, one of us puffing like a steam engine (and it wasn’t the vacuum). But despite my efforts the thing will NOT SUCK. With some choice and probably undeserved remarks as to the quality of British manufacturing, I completely lose my temper and start furiously complaining to Alex over and over that it is a piece of JUNK and it doesn’t WORK. He neither mentions my bad temper, points out that I am being irrational, or reacts when I criticize his efforts to help. He just takes the vacuum outside, completely cleans out the filter, and returns it to me in excellent order. It then works amazingly. When I thanked him, he said, “Sure, I can do that anytime. If it ever shows signs of not working again, just let me know. I’ll clean it out for you.”
And another snapshot: Still eight months pregnant, still a rhinoceros. I was roasting a chicken for dinner and had potatoes steaming for mash on the stovetop. I also had both children in the bathtub. Dinner was cooking itself nicely so I focused on my slimy and hyper offspring. When I removed a sopping Harriet from the fray and wrapped her in a towel, I thought I smelled something burning. With the low self-confidence born of long experience, I raced into the kitchen, wet toddler clutched to me. I heaved a relieved sigh when I saw the chicken crisping nicely in the oven. Back to the drying and dressing procedures. By the time I finished, the burning smell had intensified. Baffled, I stared at the chicken. I opened the oven door, no sign of burning food. I glanced at the stovetop. That wasn’t steam rising, it was smoke. There was no water in with the potatoes. The acrid smell of burnt potato billowed through the flat. I looked at the clock–Alex was due in ten minutes. When he walked into the kitchen, sniffing, I was removing the chicken from the oven. “WOW!” he said. “That chicken smells delicious!”
Now that’s romance.