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Chuck Hinman: IJMA - Husbands, Stay Out Of The Kitchen

Chuck says random order is not all that bad after his wife's outburst when he decided to organized her recipes and junk drawer as the first grand act of his retirement.
Next earlier Chuck Hinman column - The Flour Mill at Blue Rapids, Kansas

By Chuck Hinman

Husbands, Stay Out Of The Kitchen: Advice For Retirement

I retired in August 1985 after working 35 years at Phillips Petroleum Company. When retirement came we were living at 7714 Lacy Hill in Houston, Texas.

In the months before I retired, I pondered what 'important' thing I might do as my first official act of retirement -- like 'something for humanity.' But, the thing that came to mind most often was to clean the garage! Heaven knows it needed it but that seemed so mundane.

Drawers arranged in random order

I had procrastinated cleaning the garage for so long, why get in a big huff about that now! I preferred something befitting my status in life, whatever that was. The word 'B-E-N-E-V-O-L-E-N-C-E -- doing something for mankind' kept cropping up. It seemed I had always been too busy for benevolent stuff.

After getting up that first morning of my retirement and enjoying a leisurely breakfast with Connie, I was looking for something in one of Connie's junk drawers. This particular drawer happened to be in the kitchen. It was overflowing with non-descript scraps of paper and news clippings, etc. There was no particular order which drove me crazy. Connie always defended it as random order which to me seemed like an oxymoron. But she vigorously defended it saying, "get used to it -- it's me!" The drawers in our house were all 'arranged' in random order it seemed. And so it was for 50 some wonderful years.

Chuck discovers Connie's handwritten recipes

Vexed at not finding what I was looking for, I started fingering through those bits and snippets of paper. They were mostly handwritten recipes. Remember I am retired and have a perfect right to snoop a little – this is my house as well as Connie's.

Hmm -- Mom Hinman's mayonnaise dressing for potato salad. Mom's been dead since 1973 and I don't remember having potato salad with homemade mayonnaise in all those years. Here's one for Lindy's Cauliflower Salad. We had that many times at Lindy's place in Nebraska but I never remember it gracing our table. Here's one we had when either I or the kids made it. It's for Maxine Lewis's Blueberry Cream Pie. Ooh, my mouth is watering! Here's Kitchen-Klatter Pineapple-Coconut Delight. I don't remember ever having that and I want some for dinner -- today!

Chuck's first act of retirement becomes obvious

I picked up my cup of coffee and joined Connie on the patio. While reading how the Astros had fared last night at the Astrodome, my mind kept thinking about that Coconut-Pineapple stuff. Without telling Connie I had been snooping in her recipe-junk drawer, I said "Connie, why don't you fix that recipe from Kitchen-Klatter for Coconut Pineapple Delight?" She finished taking a sip of coffee before she replied, "Oh Darlin', I will but I don't know where the recipe is. Someday, I'll make that for you, sweetums." And she went back to reading something.

Her reply hit me like a bolt of lightning! I knew immediately what my first 'benevolent' act of retirement was going to be! She didn't make any of that stuff for which she had collected recipes because she didn't take time to organize them. I hadn't worked 35 years at Phillips for nothing! If nothing else, I knew how to organize paper. That's what Phillips people do best; they organize and reorganize paper. Producing oil was secondary; organizing paper was what we really did.

Chuck begins to organize his wife's paper

I was going to straighten up her recipe box and miscellaneous recipes and we would start having things like Mom's Potato Salad with home-made mayonnaise, Lindy's Cauliflower Salad and Kitchen Klatter's Coconut-Pineapple dessert. And of course, Maxine Lewis's Blueberry Cream Pie. We hadn't been having those goodies simply because Connie had lost track of the recipes. I could fix that!

Benevolent acts are historically cloaked in secrecy as to the identity of the benefactor. So I located Connie's recipe box and took it and the junk drawer into my bedroom office. I started by dumping it all on my desk so I could start from scratch. I would bring order out of chaos. I closed the door so Connie wouldn't know what I was doing until I was through. Then I could emerge with an empty junk drawer and a box of perfectly organized recipes. I was giddy about what I had stumbled upon!

At lunch Chuck tells Connie what he is doing

Lunch time came and I was making headway but no way near through. I was having a ball. After calling me two times for lunch, Connie came to the door and said, "Darlin', lunch is ready and I've called you twice. What are you doing, sugar?"

With great pride and a big smile, I announced, "I'm organizing your recipes!"

Connie's response reveals a Connie Chuck has never seen

Oh -- oh!  I had touched a nerve!

Her mouth flew open and her usual pleasant demeanor changed to instant rage as she screamed, "You're doing wha-a-a-t!" Her mouth formed ugly contortions I had never seen before! How often do you find a corporate executive humbling himself to straighten up his wife's recipes I reasoned.


I was stunned! What did I say that upset her!

Connie retreats for a few minutes

Connie retreated to the bathroom and slammed and locked the door! Whew – she's mad!

Fifteen minutes or so later, she joined me at the kitchen table. I could tell she had been crying but she mustered a smile as she squeezed my hand and picked up her sandwich.

Chuck cleans the garage, having decided to stay out of his mate's domain

The subject never came up again and the next day I dutifully got after cleaning the garage which should have been my first official act of retirement all along.

As time passed I learned to not infringe in your mate's domain. You can help but don't dominate. How thoughtless of me! As Connie said, I never missed a meal when she ran the Chuck Hinman kitchen during our 50 years of marriage.

Chuck recalls Ranger Cookies

With tears in my eyes as I write this, I remember the last time she made my favorite Ranger Cookies. She had made them so often for me she knew the recipe by heart. Now she was in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease and had lost her place in the recipe as I came home from somewhere.

Recipe box and junk drawer remain unchanged

When she later went to a nursing home, the recipe box and junk drawer looked exactly as it did when she put a screeching halt to my organizational skills when I retired in August 1985. She wasn't a home executive all those years for nothing.

Random order, I am finding, isn't all that bad. I practice it in my apartment here at Tallgrass Estates as I reminisce the time my sweetheart Connie set the ground rules for our retirement years.

Reader inquires about recipes

On Monday, 2 October 2006 Chuck received and sent out a note from Nan Kennedy Morrison, saying:

This is one of the many responses I received from my writing. Thought it worth sharing. Nan is a Bartlesville writer. I have never met her personally but know her mostly by reputation. Chuck

Nan Kennedy Morrison comments on recipes

Did you keep the recipes? I once spent three days and most of the nights typing my special recipes on the computer and putting them in loose leaf notebooks. It was a big job, but it makes a nice gift for friends and family.

I bought a box of recipes at an auction once. I am attaching a recipe I found in the box. I later sold the box on e-Bay for $30.00. I used the last of the jam I found in my Mother's ice box after she died to make the cake. It was good.

Jam Cake ingredient list from 1899
Jam Cake
Recipe written on a scrap of paper dated Friday, December 15, 1899. All that was included were the ingredients. I bought the box of recipes at an antique auction.

One cup of sugar
One-fourth cup butter
Three eggs
One teaspoon soda dissolved in 7 tablespoons of sour milk
One cup of jelly or jam    (any flavor works)
One cup raisins
One-half teaspoon of cinnamon
One-half teaspoon of allspice
Two cups flour

Mix all together and bake at 350 for 30 minutes, perhaps in a bundt pan.
Written by Chuck Hinman. Emailed 30 September 2006. Chuck later revised this story, shortening it, with the title Advice for Retirement, emailed 3 July 2010. This is the longer and more passionate original with a few minor changes by me based on the later revision. - Robert Stone

CM Note: The shorter version was first appeared on ColumbiaMagazine in 2012: Chuck Hinman No 079-C: Husbands, Stay out of the kitchen.

This story was posted on 2014-10-26 06:17:04
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