Today’s prompt asks if we have always been confident, or if we’ve ever suffered from “Imposter syndrome” so I’ll share my experience at putting on a cook’s hat that didn’t at all fit.
Stepping in Clueless and Learning from Scratch
We moved to Alberta in June of 1975, and things just didn’t work out for us — and especially for Bob job-wise. So we came back to Sask, moving back in with Bob’s Mom & Dad, with whom we’d lived before we went west. By February Bob hadn’t found work and things were pretty tight, so I started looking for part-time employment.
One day I replied to an ad for the position of kitchen help at Capilano Court Retirement Home. I wasn’t sure what this would all involve, but I figured I could peel potatoes and toss salads as well as anyone.
When I got there and met the owner, James Watson, I soon learned that he was from the Herbert area, west of Moose Jaw. So I told him Bob’s Mom was originally from that area as well. When he realized that I was daughter-in-law to “one of those Letkemans” he was quite enthused. He was needing a weekend cook and convinced that if Agnes was my mother-in-law, I could easily do that job. (Plus he’d already hired someone as kitchen helper.)
I was hesitant, seeing as my cooking experience was next to nil before I got married, and not a lot better after that. From the time I was nine years old I was on my own — no more babysitters. Mom worked steadily at the hospital all those years, first as dietary aid at RUH in Saskatoon and then as nurse’s aid at the Gray Nuns Hospital in Regina. (We moved there when I was eleven and starting Grade 6.)
Mom would usually leave a quarter on the table so I could buy something to eat for dinner. For 25 cents I could get a can of some veggie, or a bowl of chicken noodle soup at the tiny Chinese restaurant near our house in Saskatoon. (Or if it was winter and Dad wasn’t working, he’d do the cooking for us.) Thus I grew up buying cans of peas and beans and corn from the corner store to heat up for my noon lunch, especially when we lived in Regina. Not your balanced diet, I guess, but I survived.
However, one day when I was twelve my dad came home after work grumbling that there was no supper. He was disgusted with me and announced that, “Your cousin Sylvia can make a whole meal for her family. What (words omitted) is wrong with you?”
Mom was home and standing nearby when he said this. Years later, looking back on this incident, I wonder if it wasn’t said as much for her benefit as for mine, but I was the one he got the brunt of his comment. And he was right; I was totally clueless.
His expectation came right out of the blue. It didn’t strike me as very logical or fair at the time, either. No one had ever even hinted that I should know anything about cooking except for heating up cans of veggies. I kept my mouth shut so as not to get a smack cross the head, but my attitude at the moment was resistance. Like, “hey, I’ve always had to shift for myself as far as food was concerned, and so could he.” Years went by before I could imagine what it was like for him to come home from building houses all day and have to make his own supper.
Mom didn’t say much but she took things in hand, sort of: she showed me how to make scalloped potatoes. I even made them once for Dad, but neglected to tell him they were in the oven. So there they sat while he made his own supper. Poor guy!
As you may have gathered, we were not a “doing things together” household, especially not at mealtimes. We mostly ate in front of the TV. After we lived in Regina I can’t remember sitting down at a table with my folks and eating an ordinary meal together, except for a few special holiday meals.
Once we were owners of Mom’s Place, I was shown how to fry burgers. Sandwiches weren’t a big problem, either. I learned when to take the french fries out of the deep fat fryer. That’s about it. Of course I did some after I was married, but Bob never was fond of meat, so I rarely ever cooked anything in that line except hot dogs and hamburger.
And now Mr. Watson was wondering if I’d slip into the role of cook. Talk about impostering!
But he was quite sure I’d manage — because he knew my mother-in-law could cook. He told me, “If you’re related to those Letkemans, you’ll do fine. (Except he pronounced the name with a P instead of a T.) Those Lep-kemans are all good cooks,” he assured me.
So I agreed to give it a try. Talk about learning as you go! I worked for several years there, cooking on weekends, doing laundry and other basic cleaning during the week. Mrs. Guillaume, a lively lady of seventy, was the full-time cook for the thirty or more residents.
By the time we moved away from Moose Jaw, I’d learned a lot about basic cooking — which is what the seniors there wanted anyway. (I find most seniors still do.)