“Welcome to Subway, may I take your order?”
“Sure, I’ll take a tuna on wheat, toasted, please.” While the polite but pierced teen prepared my favorite sub, I chatted with my husband, who was next up. “So Hon, did you like that new club deli meat I put in your lunch today?”
“That sandwich had meat in it?” he asked sarcastically.
“What are you talking about? I made you a nice big sandwich with that new club deli meat I got at the commissary. You know, the one made of both ham and turkey with bacon wrapped around it. Geeze, I thought you’d like it!” I declared incredulously.
“Well, Hon, it was kind of hard to taste anything inside the sandwich because the strong flavor of the two heels of bread you gave me overpowered everything else.”
I grumbled, but he was right. After making the kids’ sandwiches that morning, I noticed that two heels of bread were left. I could’ve opened a new loaf and thrown the heels away, but my mother had instilled a certain frugality in me.
I thought my husband would appreciate the fact that I was not wasting two perfectly edible bread heels that his hard-earned military salary had purchased. Besides, I thought, he must be grateful that I’m the kind of wife that gets up every morning and packs him a nice lunch, right?
“What would you like on your tuna, Ma’am?” As I selected toppings that were salty, sour, crunchy and spicy, all I could taste was bitterness. “That’s it,” I ruminated. “He can make his own stinking sandwiches from now on.”
As my sub was being salt-and-peppered, I remembered a conversation I’d had with a salt-and-pepper-haired lady in the YMCA locker room two tours ago in Virginia. We had just finished our morning exercise classes – I, advanced step; she, senior water aerobics – and the women’s locker room was steamy and abuzz with conversation.
I regularly got a chuckle out of listening to the water aerobics group as they pulled on their support hose, stretch gabardine pants and embroidered tops. All the old women would cackle away about their ailments, medications, aches and pains. I always noticed that the salt-and-pepper-haired lady would listen and show concern for her friends’ self-absorbed grievances, but never complained herself.
I thought she was a real class act, and made a mental note to myself to try to become that kind of old lady, rather than the kind that went on and on about things like glucosamine and condroitin.
On this particular day, she and I found ourselves simultaneously brushing our hair at the shared vanity. “Are there any decent car washes around here?” I asked, after some cursory remarks about the weather.
“Well,” she started, with that Old World throw-back southern accent common in Richmond and Norfolk, “I must admit I’m not very familiar with automotive services around here.”
“You see,” she went on, “my husband died last fall, and don’t you know, during our entire 45 years together, I never once put gas in my own car.”
It took me a minute to process the significance of what this tasteful elderly lady had just said. “Wait, you mean he always put gas in the car for you?”
“Why yes, he certainly did,” she said, somewhat melancholy.
Of course, my immediate reaction was to get mad at my own husband, who never put gas in my minivan. Just as I was mentally making plans for real doozy of a husband-wife argument, the salt-and-pepper-haired lady continued:
“I never asked him; he wanted to do that for me, so he did. And there were things I always did for him – cooking his meals, gardening, and such. I must say, we loved taking care of each other.”
I stood, mouth half agape, staring at the lady in the shared mirror. Like a scene from “Cocoon,” it was as if she had just bestowed upon me the secret to a happy marriage.
“Will that be all?” the bolt-studded Subway employee said, jolting me back to the present. I realized that making my husband’s sandwich every day didn’t render me subservient to him. It was something I did to take care of him because he takes care of me.
With a fresh outlook on my marriage and a fresh tuna sub in my hand, I decided that there was no reason for me to dig my heels in. I’d continue making my husband sandwiches for the rest of our lives, and hopefully he’ll endure a heel or two along the way.