D. E. Larsen, DVM
Growing up, dinner time just happened. Mom would have the table set for dinner when we would come in from the barn after the evening milking. There was never a discussion of what was for dinner. Mom did all that, and you ate what was on the table or went hungry. If you didn’t eat, and Dad was in a good mood, he would offer you some bread and milk before bedtime.
I never remember thanking Mom for dinner. Everyone worked on the farm, and everyone had their job. Mom cooked dinner. That is just the way it was done.
In the Army in Korea, it was much the same. Everyone had their job. Dinner was prepared and cooked by Koreans, hired by the Army with a mess sergeant to supervise the process.
“Let’s clean up your workbench and go to dinner,” I said as I started putting things away on my desk so I could help Truman and Lauser.
It was the middle of summer in South Korea, and the heat was stifling. Everyone hated leaving the air-conditioned operations building and walking half a mile down to the mess hall.
As we stepped out of the operations building, we were greeted by a small snake coming down the sideway toward us. It didn’t look much different than the garter snakes back home.
Truman stopped in his tracks. “Wow, a snake,” he said.
This was the first snake I had seen in the ten months I had been in Korea. Truman was from Arizona, Lauser was from New Mexico, and snakes excited both of them.
“You keep an eye on him,” Lauser said to Truman. “I’ll get something to catch him.”
Lauser ran back into the operations building and was back in a couple of minutes with a coffee can and a piece of typing paper.
The two of them were down on the sidewalk, herding the snake with the piece of paper, trying to convince the little guy to crawl into the coffee can. The snake was striking the paper violently. This was no garter snake.
It didn’t take them long, and they had the snake in the coffee can and the lid attached.
We headed down the hill to the mess hall with Truman carrying the coffee can in the crook of his arm.
There was a crowd in the mess hall this afternoon. A Korean was there peddling painting that had slowed guys’ normal rapid exit after eating.
We found an empty table, and Truman set the coffee can on the corner. After going through the serving line, one of the Korean waitresses came over and took our drink order.
It wasn’t long before another of the girls came over and wanted to know what we had in the coffee can.
“A snake,” Truman said.
I don’t think she understood the English word.
“Can I see?” she asked.
Truman carefully peeled the plastic lid off the coffee can. The snake was coiled against the side of the can.
The girl shrieked and jumped back. She returned to the group of girls watching. They were all excited and talking amongst themselves.
Pretty soon, another girl approached the table but kept her distance from the coffee can.
“That snake you have in the can,” she said. “It is a very bad snake.”
Both Truman and Lauser hooped and hollered at that information.
“Maybe you guys should have somebody check that snake,” I said. “Let’s take it to the first sergeant and have him send it to the medics.”
After dinner, Truman and Lauser took the coffee can over to the first sergeant’s office. The CQ on duty said they would send it to the medics in the morning.
During lunch a couple of days later, the First Sergeant came over to our table.
“That snake, you guys, caught the other day just happens to be one of the most dangerous snakes in Asia, it’s called a short-tailed viper or something like that,” the First Sergeant said. “Next time you see a snake in this country, you either kill it or leave it the hell alone. The medical officer was pretty upset. He said if that snake had bitten anyone, they would be dead.”
In Schöningen, West Germany, we were on our own for dinner. Our small border outpost had about seventy guys, and no spouses were allowed. We were paid extra to live on the economy, TDY pay.
“Hey, what are you guys doing for dinner tonight?” I asked as we were doing the final clean-up of the shop on Friday evening.
“Why don’t we all have dinner at the Rathskeller,” Jim said. “I’ll split a Chateaubriand dinner with you.”
The Rathskeller was the best restaurant in Schöningen. Their “Chateaubriand for two” was the most expensive meal on their menu. It cost twenty marks. At an exchange rate in 1968 of four marks to the dollar, that was five dollars. Split between the two of us was the best meal in town for two dollars and fifty cents.
When the waitress placed the large wooden platter between Jim and me, we were both hungry. Centered on the platter was the chateaubriand, a large hunk of tenderloin roast. Then they were potatoes, white asparagus, variable raw veggies, and fruit. And a dollop of caviar topped the platter.
“I’ll trade you my share of the asparagus for your share of the caviar,” Jim said. “I just have never been able to eat the stuff.”
“I never ate asparagus at home,” I said. “But I sort of like this white stuff. And caviar is nothing but fish eggs. I sure don’t understand the attraction people have with it.”
The tenderloin was perfectly cooked, and we washed everything down with a liter of beer.
“Tell me again that we don’t live like kings,” Jim said.
After dinner, we made our way to the Bahnhof Hotel. We finished the evening with beer, wine, or whatever until the wee hours of the morning at the Swing Club run by the Army.
The life of Riley came to an abrupt end when I got an early out from the Army to return to school. I made a mad dash from my point of discharge at Fort Dix, New Jersey, to Corvallis, Oregon, to enroll at Oregon State University.
That summer, I lived with my brother and his family. Dinner was always on the table when Gary and I returned from school. I don’t think I ever said thank you to Kathy. That was just a job for a mom.
“What’s for dinner tonight?” Gary asked Kathy as soon as we walked into the apartment. “I’m hungry tonight. Maybe we should have steak.”
“No such luck,” Kathy said. “You know the kids don’t eat steak. We have spaghetti tonight.”
“This might be a good night for me to take everyone out of pizza,” I said.
“You mean I get a night off,” Kathy said. “That would be great, but with the kids, it has to be pepperoni.”
I don’t remember Kathy getting many days off that summer in 1969.
Besides school, I laid on the floor with the kids and watched the moon landing by the astronauts.
And as before, all good things come to an end. Gary and his family moved back to Myrtle Point and his teaching job. And I moved into a small older trailer house that I purchased. Now what’s for dinner was my job. I couldn’t afford to go out like I did in Germany. Figuring out what I was going to eat every night became a chore.
The problem was solved when I called Mom.
“I think I need your meatloaf recipe and potato salad recipe,” I told Mom on the phone.
“Well, David, I will put them in the mail for you, but they are large recipes and probably more than you could eat,” Mom said.
“I am figuring that I will make a recipe of each on Sunday, and then that is what I will eat all week,” I said.
“Don’t you think you will get tired of eating the same thing all the time?” Mom asked.
“Mom, I get tired of fixing dinner every night,” I said. “This won’t be bad; Stoney and I, and sometimes some others, eat at King’s Table every Thursday, so that breaks up the week.”
That is how it went for a couple of years until I married. Then I was back to not worrying about what’s for dinner until I retired. Sandy considered herself retired also, and I was back to doing my share of the cooking.
Photo by Hyun-tae Kim – https///www.inaturalist.org/photos/2809108