“Doris, I Need You!”

Doris“Doris, I need you!” I call these words and, always, my husband comes to help.

No, my husband is not named Doris. But his mother was and, though she died years ago, I invoke her name regularly, and he answers.

Beyond her sunny personality and her goofy sense of humor, Doris had a special skill that my husband inherited and that I am, sadly, lacking.

Doris could glance at leftovers—the tomato sauce, the cauliflower, the salsa—and gauge volume so perfectly she could always choose exactly the right container to store the food in.

This sounds like a little thing. But, to me, this little skill spoke of a stunning store of knowledge that confounded and amazed me, and has taught me a little something about craftsmanship—you can’t have a beautiful, impressive finished product without being fully in charge of the most mundane and seemingly inconsequential details of your craft.

I learned of her skill the first time I met Doris. My husband-to-be and I traveled across the US to visit his parents. His mother welcomed me in her sweet way and cooked a huge, fabulous dinner. I was mightily impressed with the meal—can we talk about her tamales? Her blackberry cobbler? I was thinking I should ask for her recipes.

But, first, wanting to impress my future mother-in-law, I tried to help clean up the kitchen. I who was, and still am, pretty much without skill or clue in the kitchen.

Doris asked me to find a plastic refrigerator container to store the leftover rice and beans. She directed me to a cupboard with plastic containers and lids of every size, perfectly organized.

I picked one that seemed right and handed it to Doris.

Long pause. A look from the container to me, to assess whether I was kidding. The realization that, no, I was serious.

And then Doris, the sweetest woman ever, laughed at me! She laughed at me in that way that says, “You poor pitiful child. Don’t you know anything?”

And she explained how the container I had chosen was way too big and she pointed out the one she wanted. And I KNEW she was wrong, that the designated container would be too small. I would be vindicated.

You can see where this is going. Doris spooned the leftovers into that container. She scraped every last bean and grain of rice right in there and it was perfect. Just right. Spot on.

I think I realized, right then, that Doris’s recipes, alone, wouldn’t do me any good.

She could make the food she made because she knew her kitchen, and its pots and pans and Tupperware, the way all experienced craftsmen know their tools.

It was this complete body of knowledge that underpinned the exquisite final products, the food that came from her kitchen.

Instead of asking for Doris’s recipes, I should’ve asked to be her apprentice!

Luckily for me, my husband inherited Doris’s love of all things kitchen. He is at home there and regularly concocts wonderful meals. He, too, depends on his knowledge of the tools of the trade and his long experience wielding those tools.

In all of this, my role is to clean the kitchen. So, here I am, 25 years later, still struggling with an unfamiliar art form. A medium not my own.

I call out, “Doris, is this the right container?” and Doris, in her son’s voice, answers.

35 thoughts on ““Doris, I Need You!”

  1. Ah, so delightful. I am still smiling. My mother had the left overs/container skills in our family. Her judgement was perfect. I have inherited a little (my sister inherited a lot) of her skill but she was always the ultimate authority, when in doubt. And my father was the best packer of suitcases. Again, a skill which has largely gone to my sister. Isn’t it intriguing the way we have all these special roles within a family. Are we like cooperative bees, perhaps?

  2. My sister, Anne, has this affliction. She says she’s spatially challenged.

    Doris sure sounds like a good cook! Tamales, rice and beans and blackberry cobbler…right up my alley!

    • She was an amazing cook! Not a healthy cook, and it took it’s toll on her, but she made her family very happy. That blackberry cobbler was the sort of thing a religion could spring up around!

  3. I always pick too large containers as well. And when I look at the leftovers in the fridge I always declare “There’s not enough in there for two people”. And spoon out a portion to realize I could be eating it for 4 days.

  4. It’s strange. I am mathematically inept, generally poor at spatial awareness, but I too am brilliant at choosing the right container for the job (said she modestly). I love the challenge of leftovers too – and then there’s nothing left to store anyway.

  5. Oh delightful, what a lovely story and told so perfectly. Let Doris keep on helping you in the kitchen with her talents: you have the gift of telling and writing. If we all would be perfect in the kitchen…who would entertain us with lovely stories whilst drinking our tea and resting???
    And I bet a lot of readers think…what a talent to find that husband of yours;0) xoxo Johanna

    ps no misunderstandings here…my own Mr. Walker is the perfect guy in my kitchen and universe;0)

    • It sounds like we were both clever enough to find the right man for our own lives! Thanks for your kind words, Johanna–your comments always make me feel great!

  6. What a wonderful story! When looking for a container to put left-overs in, I’m pretty good at estimating the size of the container that I need–but I have no idea how I do it. 🙂

  7. What a lovely story. I have no skill with choosing the right size containers for leftovers. I tend to choose them a size or two too small and end up creating more dishes to clean. 🙂

    • I’ve found that the harder I try, the worse I get at this. I’ll hold up containers to my husband and say, “This one? This one?” He just shakes his head . . .

  8. When my dad did a home improvement project, he had a male neighbor, Jerry, help with the project itself, but my mom, Grace, would make pie for their coffee breaks, and run to the store for any needed supplies. In our equal opportunity world, when my husband takes on a project, I find myself in Jerry’s role, and when we take a break, we come into the house hollering “Grace! Where’s the pie?” I finally learned to be “Grace” a day ahead of time and bake the pie, so “Jerry” can enjoy it during a project break!

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