Doris wants onion rings for supper. I have never made onion rings before but it can’t be that hard, right? At the least, I can keep her company while she cooks. I will practice loving kindness, even if I don’t feel it. Maybe it’s like smiling – the act of doing the thing can actually induce the feeling.
I really do feel sorry for her. It’s just that it’s a lot easier to feel sorry for her when I am not around her. But I want to like her. I do. I will try. The whole, “Ram a pole up her ass” thing from last year, though – that’s a tough one to overcome.
I watch her peel an onion and then, very slowly and very carefully, with one of the dangerously dull knives in the knife block, cut the onion into slices. We should have given her their Christmas present early.
Oh! Forgot to mention. We ordered them a nice butcher knife and paring knife. We had them shipped to Stephanie's, as carrying sharp stabbing instruments on a plane is generally frowned upon. I need to go over to Stephanie's to pick them up. Good. I always like spending time with Stephanie.
I can’t bear to watch this. First, Doris is so darn slow that it makes me crazy. Second, I am pretty sure that knife is going to slip and gash her and that blood will get over everything, including the food, and Primo and I will have to clean it up and there won’t be anything to eat because it will be covered in blood.
I am not that squeamish, but I am reluctant to eat food that has been covered in blood, even if the food is rinsed.
And, of course, I am squeamish about showers.
Me: Why don’t I do that, Doris? You can sit and tell me what to do. I’ve never made onion rings before. You can teach me.
Doris: You don’t know how to make onion rings?
I almost never eat fried foods. It’s not because I don’t like them but because I am descended from a long line of peasant women who had to give birth in the fields and then keep harvesting potatoes. My body is built for comfort, not speed, and it will hold onto all those extra calories just in case. Just in case there is famine. Because famine happens a lot in the first world these days.
Also, I do not like having grease spatter in my kitchen.
Me: Nope. I can’t eat food like this very often. I have a tendency to accumulate pounds.
Doris: How much do you weigh?
What? That is not a polite question.
Well OK. Whatever. Maybe this can be a (bizarre) bonding thing between us.
Me: Oh, about one forty, one forty two. I feel better and think I look better at one thirty, but I have to be hungry all the time to get there.
Doris: I only weigh one hundred and nineteen pounds.
Holy smoke. My boyfriend’s 70something wants to get into a competitive weigh off with me? What the heck?
Be kind. Be kind. She is a bitterly unhappy person. Be kind. Do more than the bare minimum. Deep breath.
Also: she is five inches taller than I am and weighs more than 20 pounds less than I do. Crap. I am really doing it wrong.
Me: Yes, Doris, you have a nice tall, slim figure. And Primo has shown me photos from when he was born. You were a knockout.
She was. She was gorgeous. She was tall and slim but very shapely and had beautiful lush long auburn hair. She was amazingly talented and had a full scholarship to the music conservatory. And she threw it all away on a jerk husband.
She weighs less than I do. She wins. I guess.
But I can get out of a chair by myself.
Be kind! Be kind! I don’t have to fake enthusiasm but I can be kind to a miserable old lady.
Not that I care if I know how to make onion rings. If ever an occasion should come along in my life where I would need onion rings, I am pretty confident I would be able to master the skill. But you know – trying to get along. And really, it is very hard to watch an old lady do something that is so clearly difficult for her.
I peel the onions, slice them, and shake them in a big plastic bag with flour, salt, and pepper.
She directs me to the deep fryer. I get it out, fill it with oil, and turn it on. As we wait, she tells me that this is one of Primo’s favorite foods and that she always makes it for him.
That is kind of sweet.
Primo has never told me he likes onion rings. I have never seen him order them at a restaurant. Maybe he likes only his mom’s onion rings? Whatever. It’s OK for a mom to try to do something special for her child.
Once the oil is hot, she has me dip a portion of the flour-coated rings in milk, then shake them with the seasoned flour again. She stands and drops them in the hot oil. At just the right time – I gotta give her credit for this, she lifts the basket, dumps the rings onto some crumpled newspaper, and sprinkles them with more salt.
I reach for one – too hot.
Doris: You have to wait!
I wait a few more seconds, then reach again and eat one.
This. Is. So. Good.
Hot. Salty. Fat. Is there anything better?
Doris eats a few, then eases herself back into the chair.
Doris: Get that cookie tray out from that cupboard. Put the rings on it and put it in the oven on low until we are done.
Sly: Doris! Come watch this tennis match!
She looks conflicted.
I understand. I would not want to spend time with Sly, either.
Me: Go! I’ll finish these. I’ll do it just like you showed me, I promise.
You know me. I never mind being alone. Besides, I have a headache and the medication is making me feel crummy and I am running out of nice. Pain makes me cranky.
I finish the onion rings, eating one or two out of each small batch that went into the fryer. It takes 30 minutes and I make 12 batches. My hair and clothes reek of grease, which does not help my headache. But whatever.
It is not hard at all to eat a lot of onion rings hot out of the fryer. Not at all. But when they catch up to you, you discover that they are very, very filling.
By the time we sit down for supper, I am not hungry at all. I serve myself only a small amount of food and spend 30 minutes moving it around my plate until I feel I can excuse myself to go to bed. The headache is not abating and I just want peace.