In 1989, a friend introduced me to her soccer coach but told me to take heed as he was a real partier. Six weeks later, I was dating this humorous man with an intriguing English accent. Three months later, we were driving to Iowa to spend Easter with my family. After we crossed the Mississippi River and entered Iowa farm country, I began my tutorial in Manure 101. The smells along the way were clearly defined for me by my nose. I tried to describe the scent we smelled so as to help Bill differentiate between cow and pig. They were so obviously different; I was having a hard time understanding why he couldn’t smell the difference. Pig manure is stringent. It really stinks and lingers unpleasantly. Cow manure is mellower; it lacks the pungency of that of the smaller hoofed animal. While this lesson entertained us for 1 ½ hours, I was unsuccessful. About five years later, I would realize that Bill really can’t smell much of anything. During this trip, he was most likely making guesses based on nothing he could smell. He was just appeasing me. Wooing me across the heartland.
Arriving at my parents’ house, Bill picked up his duffel bag and I heard a clanking. I asked what it was. “I brought a couple bottles of wine for your parents.” I popped his bubble, “Oh…. They don’t drink.” This grandson of a London pub owner looked at me somewhat bewildered. After the Easter turkey dinner, the bewildered looks jumped to the Murphys. As Bill stood up to help Mom clear the table, amidst blank looks from all the other men still seated around the table, Bill asked, “Could we save the turkey drippings for breakfast?” “Of course,” my mom obligingly replied. She didn’t ask questions. The next morning, baffled by how Bill was planning to dine on drippings, Mom offered to heat them up for Bill. Bill replied, “Oh, no thank you. I just spread it on toast.” “Oh… OK.” No one joined him. (Sidebar: According to Bill, this year’s drippings were excellent. The butter and whole herbs must have added to the flavor. I was also informed that his morning-after tradition isn’t as enjoyable if I’m in the kitchen. In my presence, he feels guilty slathering on the turkey fat. My look has nothing to do with his arteries; I’m just still a little grossed out by the breakfast, even after twenty years of the tradition. “You don’t have turkey drippings every day. I really don’t mind if you have it on occasion,” thinking quietly to myself, just don’t expect me to join in any time soon.)
After we were married, trips to Iowa continued to be learning experiences for all involved. Bill loves getting his hands dirty in projects with Dad and my brothers. One day Dad told Bill to get a pitch fork out of the barn. He went to the middle of the barnyard, stopped, looked at the four buildings, and then came to find me. “Linda, there are four barns out there. How am I supposed to know which one the fork is in?” I went outside with him and started my Barnyard Building 101 tutorial. I pointed to each one and identified them: the shop, the corn crib, the hay shed, and, finally, the barn. I half expected to see Dad laughing behind one of the buildings.
A couple years later, on another adventure in Iowa during corn picking season, all the machinery was in the barnyard. Bill came over to me and said, “You’ve got to see this little field mouse by the combine tire. It’s tiny and the tire is so huge.” I asked, “It’s just sitting there?” thinking it was probably sick. Bill nodded with a smile. I went and had a look. Dad came over to see what we were gawking at. He looked down. “What the hell?” Then… stomp. My delicate dance I had been doing with a foot on either side of the Mississippi ended in a collision of unspeakable magnitude. City meet farm. Dad didn’t miss a beat; he went back to work, but I’m sure Bill’s heart momentarily stopped beating. We didn’t talk about the incident on Murphy soil, but later that day, about the time we were crossing the Mississippi on the way home to Illinois, Bill simply said, “Ya know, I’ve been thinking about that mouse.” I tried to explain that to Dad it was a small version of a big rat, and rats tend to run up pant legs on occasion. Again, my explanation was unsuccessful.
After the mouse incident, Bill placed a special order when Mom wondered what cuts we wanted from our half a hog. Bill asked Mom to get the kidneys for him. “Of course,” mom obligingly replied. This time he explained. Steak and kidney pie was a tradition in England. I’m not sure how Mom told the butcher she wanted pork kidneys, normally refuse. Perhaps the explanation went something like, “You see, my daughter is dancing with a foreign city slicker…”