FINDING 50

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BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Salt Lake City, Utah  I  Thursday, 21 April 2016

This is my story. No one can take it from me. And that is what has made everything entirely worth it.
-Alice Ostrander

Didn’t I tell you someday I would reveal why my blog is called My Copper Kitchen? Well, guess what, folksy friends, today is that day. Grab a drink and a snack and get into a comfy spot, because I tend to wax eloquent when I get my hands on pen and paper or a keyboard and screen. And when my emotions get a hold of me. Which is often.

I’m sitting at my farmhouse dining room table, blasting Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain, and polishing off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk. I’m wearing my favorite blogging outfit, the black Skynyrd Freebird t-shirt and my brown and green and black Indian gypsy skirt.

And, of course, I’m wearing my two blogging rings. The copper one has been with me about five years, the silver Great Gatsby one, about a week or so.

I’m barefoot and it’s 77 degrees, so the patio door is thrown open. For lunch I ate a bowl of popcorn while soaking in a warm tub and listening to classical music. Because I can. I do what I want. And make sure to pronounce that Whut. I. Want.

Let’s talk about My Copper Kitchen.

When I was growing up in eastern New York, in the early 80s, I would sit in the ratty recliner in the pleasantly sunny family room, the one with the southern-facing bay window, my feet up to the big black wood stove with the unicorns on the doors, and I would dream. Yup, I kid you not. Unicorns. No wonder it was easy to dream!

Household stores were pretty much non-existent in Columbia County, so I pored often and intently over the Service Merchandise catalog for hours on end, choosing bedspreads and sheets, china and silverware, glasses and goblets, towels and bathmats.

(How I wish I had clipped some of these photos and made a dream book. I have the feeling I would have chosen a lot of late 70s orange and brown back then. Funny, I seem to have come full circle, incorporating lots of orange into my upcoming bathroom and bedroom redos.)

And pots and pans. I wanted to have copper-bottomed pots and pans. I knew they needed to be shined, and would require constant attention and extra love, but they were beautiful. And I wanted to be surrounded by beauty.

Copper-bottomed pans were what I dreamed of for my kitchen.

The years went by and I got busy with high school and friends, sports and activities, and I put aside the Service Merchandise catalog, too busy for my fluffy future because I was busy living fully in the present. But I still had distant dreams of a beautiful home filled with a loving family and lots of pretty, well-cared for things.

And dinner parties. I had visions of dinner parties, even though I really didn’t know how to cook anything other than my signature stuffed shells I made many times when we had the church missionaries over for dinner.

My mom was a very good meat-and-potatoes kind of cook too, because her mother-in-law, Emma, finally taught her how to make meals other than beans and weenies. Mom would have gladly taught me, but at the time I would rather clean house and do their laundry, or go gallivanting at the Hudson Boat Docks with my friends, or study my beloved geometry book. (Yes. Geometry is the only math that has ever made sense to me.)

I also had a full slate, playing field hockey, co-editing the Senior yearbook, being in Student Council, and writing for the school newspaper. Not to mention attending dances and parties and chasing after boys!

Finally, graduation, a job at McDonald’s, and then, that fall, I went off to college far across the country, and made new friends. My roommates and I, the Rockets, we always tried to make things look nice in our little cottage-cheesy, cinder-block, built-in-the-50s student apartment, with the narrow little hallway that closely resembled a heating duct.

There was no living room, just a large common lounge for each of the two floors. Our kitchen, it had a rough brown-plaid love seat, an old table with six yellowy chairs, and a phone with a long and twisty cord. (Imagine! They don’t even put phone jacks in the new student apartments any more.) There were also white metal cupboards which were remodeled and refaced with wood, halfway through the year. And we got a microwave then, too! The first one I ever had.

We became fast and famous forever friends, and we shared many things with each other: clothes and food, hopes and happiness, disappointments and dating disasters. Together, we figured out the whole freshman thing. Well, kinda. Does anyone ever, really?

The next year, we moved off campus into an apartment at the bottom of Tanner Hill and across University Avenue. The front part of the apartment consisted of a living room with a comfy old orange sofa and matching well-worn orange carpet, connected openly with a large galley kitchen with no dishwasher and a table with six mismatched chairs. A door closed off the back part of the place, where there were three shared bedrooms and two bathrooms with a big two-sink vanity in the hallway.

It was a genius floor plan. I knew it then, and know it now, and admire it to this day.

Four months after moving there, in January of 1987, in that very kitchen with the puke-chunk looking linoleum floor, I met the wild young man who would become my husband almost twelve years later. His name, his name was Bill. He was skinny as a stick and wore red high tops.

Oh, how I loved him.

I saw such potential in him for good, in spite of his rough past. In spite of the fact he already had two children with a former girlfriend and a big family which was very different from my own.

I fell so in love, for the first time in my life, and I knew he loved me too. We spent every waking moment when I wasn’t in class and he was off from work, together. It broke my heart when he took me to the airport in April and put me on the plane for New York, for the summer. But then, he didn’t stay faithful to me like he’d promised he would. Four months was just too much time apart, I guess.

I should have had the self esteem to end it then and there.

Well, dear reader, I guess I foolishly spent the next 26 years trying to recapture the feelings of the first three months together, when we were crazy in love and treated each other well and couldn’t bear to be separated. Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it, though? But I was so young and had no idea the heartache I was choosing and no experience in how to have a healthy relationship. (This is something which can be taught and learned, it really is! )

Bill and I, we each had many other romantic interests come in and out of our lives, but we always found our way back to each other. Over and over and over again. He was wild, and my little rebellious heart LOVED wild. He had a motorcycle, a bullet bike, and we would go on long hot windy rainy rides to nowhere, my arms around his slim waist, my short permed hair in knots, even under my helmet, the side of my face pressed happily to his back.

Later on, after I graduated college but stayed in town to work, he had a truck. A boxy black Ford Ranger truck with a burgundy red interior. I liked to sit in the middle of the bench seat to be close to him as he drove and we listened to KISS and Boston and hair metal. Did I mention I loved wild? Yes, I surely did.

One Saturday, we went to the outlet stores in Kimball Junction, near Park City, a beautiful drive through Provo Canyon. Our favorite thing to do was go into the kitchen stores and browse. One such time, I had a little extra money and saw a starter set of Revere pans for $75, and I bought them.

I forgot all about the fact I had always wanted copper-bottomed pans.

I bought the set with the stainless-steel bottoms. They were cheaper, after all, and would be easier to maintain! Seventy-five dollars later, the boxed set of pans was mine, it went into the bed of the Ranger, and we drove back to Provo. I still had roommates at this point, but not the Rockets any more, roommates I wasn’t even close to. So I put the pans in my closet, still in their box, for several years.

Then, with a college degree in interior design and a good-paying corporate graphic design job under my belt, I finally moved into my very own place, the Clark Apartment.

I still remember that glorious kitchen. My very own kitchen, for the first time.

It had dark wood cabinets, a wood-grain laminate counter top, and a goldenrod stove. An ivory refrigerator, a big white porcelain sink, and no dishwasher.  Just enough room for a table for two, which I purchased at Best, a store much like Service Merchandise.

The kitchen had a window over the sink which looked out into a bush with a little visiting bird, a thin strip of mowed grass, and a field of weeds, all adjacent to a dead-end street that my landlord desperately tried to stop from going through. He placed a giant log, tree trunk really, at the end of the road so people wouldn’t drive through the weed field a few feet to an adjoining street. It worked. My neighborhood was blessedly quiet and I loved my apartment.

At this point I decided I should learn how to cook.

Now the pesky roommates and their mountains of dishes and their annoying boyfriends were left behind, no longer hanging over me like a dark cloud. So learn to cook I did, from Cooking Light magazine and the Better Homes & Gardens red plaid cookbook, 14th edition, the one I asked for at Christmas. (I still have this cookbook, and it’s been so well used and loved that the cover has fallen off the three-ring binder part.)

I began to fill my freezer with meat in Ziploc bags, and I would watch the grocery flyers for what was on sale so I could stock up. Ground beef, chicken breasts and chicken tenders, all into one-pound bags, neatly labeled with Sharpie marker, promising piles in the freezer. It was so satisfying to see the freezer fill up!

And now I finally had lots of cupboards all to myself. So out of the closet and out of the box and into the light of day came the never-used Revere cookware. I used it and used it and used it until I became a good cook.

I was a meticulous housekeeper, too, cleaning my bathroom every Friday (Wooey! What a scintillating social life!), scrubbing my kitchen floor on my hands and knees, and using Soft Scrub to buff the black marks out of my white porcelain kitchen sink, the marks my pans made as they were being hand washed.

But truth be known, I was lonely, living by myself with all the Rockets gone. I hung out with Ann, an Honorary Rocket, who was married but still living nearby. Julie, Lori, Anita and Lynette had all married and/or moved away. A few great guys came and went much too quickly out of my life, with never the right timing or connection. Somehow, it always, always came back to Bill. We always found each other again.

In August of 1997 I found out I was pregnant. I gave birth to a beautiful, fluffy-haired, five-pound bag of sugar son in November.

Bill and I finally married in November of 1998 and at first I was thought I was happy, now we were officially together. But it quickly turned into an abusive marriage, mostly emotionally, but at the end it turned physical.

He was a heavy drinker and all my attempts at being the perfect mother and wife didn’t work. He never had the courage and motivation and moral character to even begin seeking a cure. But I stayed and stayed and stayed, hoping to please, hoping to make it work.

I wasn’t raised by my parents or my church to think of divorce as even being an option.

I had an epiphany one time while talking to my older son when he was fourteen or so. I was sitting on the edge of my bed and crying, again and always, about the pain in my heart over my failing marriage, and told him through my tears how I wished I could just find the courage to leave his father. My child, this sweet sweet sensitive child-friend, he looked at me and said the words which burned into my broken heart and confused brain.

He said, “Courage isn’t given, it is gathered.”

I thought of this often, what he had told me, and finally, in April of 2013, I was done. Crispy-fried, KFC, done. I left him, this man I had loved and tried to help since 1987. I had nothing left, no more effort available to give, and was a scared shell of the girl I used to be, afraid of my own shadow and deeply lacking in confidence and direction.

So I did. I finally did. I gathered up a few shreds of courage and with two boys, 15 and 10, I forced my husband to leave our home. I started over and I gave my children the ultimate gift, the gift of a safe home. Four months later, and down to one income, we moved into an even smaller apartment, the one we live in now, the two-butt-kitchen place, the inspiration for My Copper Kitchen.

I separated his things from mine. And shopped for new things. A Wusthof 6″ knife from Sur la Table was one of my first purchases, and it’s the only knife I need. I no longer had to eat off his dark green melamine plates I had always hated. Out came the ecru-colored stoneware with the thin slate-blue ring around the edges, the plates I’d had since 1990. Out came the cobalt blue plates. Everything I loved began to see the light of day. Again.

And off to the thrift store I went, happily, the only place I could really afford. I bought clear, thick-walled glasses for root beer, vintage silverware with starbursts, a nest of three turquoise Pyrex bowls, two goldenrod glasses, many, many, many cut- and pressed-glass serving pieces, and anything old and interesting which caught my eye. I would much rather buy vintage than new.

And pans. I had mentioned to my sister Karen while I was still in the old apartment that I needed two matching 10″ frying pans, good quality that could withstand heat in the oven, for making the German pancakes my boys loved so much. It wasn’t long before she found two old identical 10″ Revere frying pans, with lids even.

They had copper bottoms. THEY HAD COPPER BOTTOMS.

My childhood dreams began to flood back, to wash over me in waves. These dreams long dead, they reincarnated. I remembered as a young teen, sitting in that recliner, poring over the catalog, I had wanted copper-bottomed pans.

Then why, WHY I ask of you, why had I settled for the stainless-steel bottomed pans?

I began to buy other copper-bottomed Revere pans. Copper things. Copper accessories for my kitchen. I found a copper-punched lovebird piece I had made when I was a teenager, and it matched a copper bird trivet I had purchased some years before at swap meet. It had been sitting in a pile of junk on the ground when it glinted and caught my eye and I picked it up and bought it, lovely.

And I discovered something, something amazing. All Revere pans, no matter how black the bottoms have become from years of other people’s abuse and unappreciation and neglect, a little Barkeeper’s Friend and a steel scrubbing pad, coupled with furiously determined scrubbing, and they can become virtually new looking again. It’s miraculous, it really is. It’s like life.

So folks, here you have it.

This is my life, this is my dream.

To use my copper-bottomed pans to cook for my beloved Thing 1 and Thing 2 and my friends and family. To be surrounded by beautiful people and things. People who know and love me, with all my faults and failings and wonderfulness, but adore me anyways. And treat me right.

To search out things which bring me joy to use and look upon. Things I have gathered up over the years in bits and pieces, at yard sales and thrift shops, along with the occasional new and thoughtfully planned out purchase or chanced-upon sale.

My life, it was once a black-bottomed, endless abyss, a mess of despair and depression, emotional and physical abuse, self-neglect, repression of wrongs committed against me, and denial of my dreams.

And now it is not. It does not have to stay that way. It WILL NOT stay that way. It’s all coming back to me now, in bursts and bits of brightness here and there. I still suffer from depression, and sometimes it virtually cripples me (notice I never posted anything to My Copper Kitchen in December of 2015 and January of 2016?) but now I’m determined to talk about it, and not hide it, and share it with you, my friends and readers.

If I can help even one suffering person to feel not so alone, it will be worth it for me to have bared my soul to dozens.

So now, now I’m 49 and two months…

And now, finally now, my life is becoming lovely and shiny and brightly burnished copper as I cast off years of layered blackness, to reinvent myself and find my way to 50. Find my way back to the dreams I had when I was 15, and find my way forward to live out new dreams.

Welcome to Finding 50 @ My Copper Kitchen! A new feature will be available the third Thursday of every month up until my 50th birthday, on 14 February 2017. (On that same day, my blog will be exactly two years old!) Check back on Thursday, 19 May 2016, for High School Hopeful, the next installment of Finding 50.

[SUGGESTED LISTENING]
Breathe: Relaxing Music From the Movies. 2006, Telarc.
Tracks include four of my favorite pieces of classical music:
Canon in D (Pachelbel)
Feather Theme from Forrest Gump (Erich Kunzel)
Theme from Somewhere in Time (Rachmaninoff)
Theme from A River Runs Through It (Erich Kunzel)

Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain. 1984, Warner Bros. Records Inc.

[SUGGESTED READING]
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. 1943, Harper and Brothers.
Tells the true and ultimately triumphant story of a child, her mother, and her alcoholic father in the early 1900s.

[MORE INFORMATION]
From Color Wheel Pro at
http://www.color-wheel-pro.com/color-meaning.html

“Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy, sunshine, and the tropics. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.

To the human eye, orange is a very hot color, so it gives the sensation of heat. Nevertheless, orange is not as aggressive as red. Orange increases oxygen supply to the brain, produces an invigorating effect, and stimulates mental activity. It is highly accepted among young people. As a citrus color, orange is associated with healthy food and stimulates appetite. Orange is the color of fall and harvest. In heraldry, orange is symbolic of strength and endurance.”