By Barb Arland-Fye
Thom Hart stood in the kitchen of his boyhood home in Davenport preparing a special dressing for Thanksgiving. He and his wife, Jane, a Chicago native and gifted artist, hadn’t been married long. She had no interest in cooking and gladly relinquished that responsibility to him. But the marriage may have been too young for Jane to trust Thom with her family’s treasured recipes from Eastern Europe.
One of the recipes that Jane’s mother had shared with Thom was a Bohemian dressing called “Muddy Anka,” traditionally served with Thanksgiving dinner. The dressing was flavored with an herb called Marjoram. That particular Thanksgiving, Jane was convinced that Thom was not making the Muddy Anka dressing that she knew and loved. “I’m going to call Mom to get the recipe!” she declared. He wanted to hear what Mom would say so the disagreeing spouses got on separate phone lines to hear the response. Jane complained to her mother about Thom and told her he wasn’t making Muddy Anka. The proof was in a jar of Marjoram. A gleeful Thom heard Jane’s mother say, “Honey, it’s OK. Muddy Anka is the Bohemian word for Marjoram.”
For years after that, if an argument arose, Thom or Jane would say to one another, “Is this a Muddy Anka argument?”
Thom shared that funny story with me during an interview about spouses who had served as caregivers for their wives who suffered from memory loss. Thom and Jane had been married 38 years when she died three years ago in their Davenport home.
His story caused me to reflect on the dynamics of a sacramental marriage, the practical everyday details in which God is at work, even when spouses, in the heat of an argument, don’t think to ask God for help. My 32-year marriage with Steve offers an example that stands out in both of our minds.
Steve and I were still trying to figure out how to parent our first son, a 3-year-old boy newly diagnosed with autism. Colin slept very little and when he did it was a dead sleep. One night, Steve and I got into an argument (neither one of us remembers the details) but it probably had to do with parenting Colin. Steve stormed off, and I followed him upstairs to Colin’s bedroom. Steve picked up our son, sleeping so soundly that he looked like dead weight, and said that the two of them were leaving me.
I looked at them — my husband, whose feelings had been deeply hurt, and my 3-year-old, oblivious to everything. My heart filled with compassion, love and laughter. God was in our midst, helping Steve and I to see our way through pain, anger and utter exhaustion. God has inspired us through the years to communicate with one another, to talk out our frustrations, to be willing to forgive one another. We can look back on the “I’m leaving with him” memory and laugh. It was our “Muddy Anka” moment and there have been a few others.
Pope Francis observes in “The Joy of Love” that “Growth can only occur if we respond to God’s grace through constant acts of love, acts of kindness that become ever more frequent, intense, generous, tender and cheerful.” Husbands and wives “become conscious of their unity and experience it more deeply from day to day.”
Thom said something to me that I will take into my own marriage. As he served as a caregiver to Jane, he taught his children that being kind is more important than being right.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)