Have you ever been so inspired by a book, a story or an image, that you mulled it over in your mind for an extended period of time? I first read this story by Gail Van Kleeck more than a decade ago. It resonated with me because it is a simple illustration of how we are all unique, with a distinctive skill set. And sometimes, individuals may not have the ability to provide what we are longing for, particularly with complex relationships.
This story, “Making Stroganoff”, is part of the book, How You See Anything is how you see Everything: A Treasury of Simple Wisdom. These collections of stories intertwine to offer a powerful perspective and encourage reflection and growth from daily life. Her books, along with my journal, are frequently on my nightstand, from which I draw inspiration.
Reflecting on how this book has stayed with me, I reached out to Gail to send her heartfelt thanks for her perspective. As I have come to know Gail, she has an interesting, empowering and sensitive worldview. She is a compelling writer and an accomplished interior designer. Please be on the lookout for an upcoming article about Gail’s life as a “serial creative” and the inspiration behind her work.
Making Stroganoff, by Gail Van Kleeck*
“That’s it, I’ve had it! This is the very last straw!” The “thirty-something” suburban housewife brushed the long, red hair from her face and angrily pushed her chair back from the kitchen table. Striding to the window, she stood silently, staring out past the glass without really seeing, then lowered her eyes to reread her mother-in-law’s letter.
“My Dear:” The words spread themselves before her through a thick, hot blur of tears. “I’ve enclosed a list of the words you misspelled in your last note to me. I hope your children don’t inherit that trait from you. While it was good to have the four of you with us, I do wish our son would come by himself next time. You and the children cause more confusion than we like, and your father-in-law has come down with a cold, which he probably caught from somebody’s runny nose. I’ve practically made myself sick too, thinking about what I’ll serve at the bridge club on Friday. I hope the migraine you had when you were here is better and that you’ll talk to our son about visiting us alone. Love, Mother.”
“Love!” thought the young wife, crumpling the letter in her hand. “She doesn’t know the meaning of the word!”
“How many years?” she wondered, seeing the garden beyond her window for the first time. “How many years have I tried everything I know to earn her approval and acceptance? Nothing I do counts for anything. In the end, it’s always the same. I feel so resentful, sometimes I think I hate her!” The anger she suddenly felt shocked the young woman. “I need to do something to get my mind off all this.” Turning, she dropped the letter in the wastebasket and opened the refrigerator door.
While she had never thought of herself as a gourmet cook, there were a few things the woman made reasonably well. One of them was Stroganoff. Through years of experimentation she’d found just the right combination of wine, mushrooms, and lots of sweet yellow onions. Her family loved the dish, and she’d bought the meat to make it just the day before. Now she cut off the fat, dredged the beef in seasoned flour, and began browning it lightly.
For a moment the woman forgot about her mother-in-law’s letter, thinking instead of the dinner she and her family would be sharing that night. She smiled at the thought of using their good dishes, picking a bouquet of wildflowers, and remembering to light the candles. “We save candlelight for special moments,” she mused. “Sometimes we forget every moment is special.”
Reaching into the drawer where she kept the onions, she was completely taken aback to discover it was empty. “It’s all right.” she reassured herself, picking up the phone. “I’ll just borrow some from my neighbor.” But the neighbor had just used her last onion in a stew.
The young woman rinsed her hands, took the meat from the pan and reached for the car keys.
“Well, this is just perfect,” she thought sarcastically, turning her vehicle into the grocery store’s parking lot and searching frantically for a space. “As hard as I try to be a good daughter-in-law, that self-centered old woman still refuses to give me the acceptance and approval I need. Now, even though I’ve been a good neighbor, I still have to go out and get my own onions. Life just isn’t fair!”
“There’ll be no time now for setting out the good dishes and picking a bouquet of wildflowers,” she thought, walking wearily back into her kitchen. “Well, at least we can have candlelight.” She reached for her favorite candlesticks, hoping to somehow make herself feel better.
As she set the table for dinner, she thought about her day. While she’d been disappointed when her neighbor couldn’t give her onions, the woman realized she had felt neither anger nor resentment toward her. “She didn’t intend to make my life difficult, “she thought. “She just couldn’t give me something she didn’t have.”
Her mind drifted back to her mother-in-law’s letter and to the years she’d spent trying to earn the older woman’s acceptance and approval. “Maybe acceptance and approval just aren’t part of her nature. “ It was a new and somewhat startling thought. She shook her head sadly. “Maybe she’s not withholding anything from me after all. Maybe she simply can’t give me something she doesn’t have.”
She sighed. Although she was still feeling disappointed, she noticed that some of her anger had been replaced with understanding. She stared silently into the light of the candles she’d just lit, then dishing up the Stroganoff, carried it quietly to the table.
How might this story be beneficial when interacting with others, particularly those complex relationships? Do you find this story meaningful as you consider one of your own relationships? What stories do you draw inspiration from?
*Published with permission from Gail Van Kleeck. For more information about Gail’s vision, and her latest book, click here. You can read her blog, download free resources, or order her book about her unique perspective on interior design and how your home makes you feel, entitled, The Magical Interior Design Guide.