I’m 16, and it is winter in Minnesota. It’s warm inside, insulated from the biting cold outside these walls. I’m in my bedroom, glancing over words in a textbook. Despite the fact that no one is watching, I want to look like I’m doing something. My eyes glaze over and then turn back to the clock. It’s almost 6:30. I grab a few folders, turn off the light, and run down the stairs in the dark. It’s been dark since 4:30, but no one has turned on the hall lights yet.
When I reach the bottom, the kitchen glows against the blackness outside. Only slight glimmers of snow are visible through the large windows. My mom offers a smile as she moves with hurried grace amongst the burners and ovens. I spread my homework out on the kitchen table. I know she’ll ask me to set the table soon, but I relish every minute of having the full space to myself. I page through folders until I find my most mindless assignment. Because I’m not really sitting here to do my homework. I’m sitting here to watch Wheel of Fortune.
Mom watches the final minutes of the local news while she cooks, only stealing quick glances at the TV. My ears perk up when I hear the news anchors sign off. I take this moment to turn up the volume a couple notches. Suddenly the exaggerated announcer’s voice and the game show theme song play against the comforting smell of dinner. Food always smells better this time of year. The still, dead winter is a blank canvas for its aroma.
The first contestant spins the wheel. My eyes are glued to the TV. I don’t have glasses yet, so I squint slightly. My mom stands at the stove, stirring vegetables in a pan. She ducks her head slightly to gaze under the pot rack and at the TV. More spins follow. The wheel clicks to a halt each time. Another spin, another letter. My mom’s lips move slightly, whispering guesses as she deciphers the puzzle. Before a quarter of the letters are revealed, she has the answer. She blurts it out with excitement. I smile and tell her she should be on the show. She lifts her head and laughs. I turn my head back to my homework, and I smile, too. This is my favorite time of night.
Lately I’ve found myself watching Wheel of Fortune while I make dinner. It’s on at 7:30 here instead of 6:30. The board with real moving tiles has been replaced by a computer touch screen. Pat and Vanna’s lack of aging is even more magical. The sun is shining, it’s warm outside, and the food smells different. But the feeling is the same.