It bothered Ben every time he walked through the kitchen. It was that little metal container on the shelf above Martha’s cook stove. He probably would not have noticed it so much or been bothered by it if Martha had not repeatedly told him never to touch it. The reason, she said, was that it contained a “secret herb” from her mother, and since she had no way of refilling the container, she was concerned that if Ben or anyone else ever picked it up and looked inside, they might accidentally drop it and spill its valuable contents.
The container wasn’t really much to look at. It was so old that much of its original red and gold floral pattern had faded. You could tell right where it had been gripped again and again when the container was lifted and its tight lid pulled off. Not only Martha’s fingers had gripped it there; her mother’s and her grandmother’s had, too. Martha didn’t know for sure, but she thought that perhaps even her great‐grandmother had used this same container and its “secret herb.”
All Ben knew for certain was that shortly after he had married Martha, her mother had brought the container to Martha and told her to make the same loving use of its contents as she had.
And she did, faithfully. Ben never saw Martha cook a dish without taking the container off the shelf and sprinkling just a little of the secret herb over the ingredients. Even when she baked cakes, pies, and cookies, she added a light sprinkling just before she put the pans in the oven.
Whatever was in that container, it sure worked, for Ben thought that Martha was the best cook in the world. He wasn’t alone in that opinion— anyone who ever ate at their house grandly praised Martha’s cooking.
But why wouldn’t she let Ben touch that little container? Was she really afraid he’d spill its contents? And what did that secret herb look like? It was so fine that whenever Martha sprinkled it over the food she was preparing, Ben couldn’t quite make out its texture. She obviously had to use very little of it because there was no way to refill the container.
Somehow Martha had stretched those contents over thirty years of marriage, and it had never failed to effect mouth‐watering results.
Ben became increasingly tempted to look into that container just once, but he never brought himself to do so.
Then one day Martha became ill. Ben took her to the hospital, where they kept her overnight. When he returned home, he found it extremely lonely in the house. Martha had never been gone overnight before. And when it neared suppertime, he wondered what to do— Martha had so loved to cook that he had never bothered to learn much about preparing food.
When he wandered into the kitchen to see what was in the refrigerator, he immediately saw the container on the shelf. His eyes were drawn to it like a magnet. He quickly looked away, but his curiosity drew him back.
What was in that container? Why wasn’t he to touch it? What did that secret herb look like? How much of it was left?
Ben looked away again and lifted the cover of a large cake pan on the kitchen counter. Ahh… there was more than half of one of Martha’s great cakes left. He cut off a large piece, sat down at the kitchen table, and hadn’t taken more than one bite when his eyes went back to that container again. What would it hurt if he looked inside? Why was Martha so secretive about that container, anyway?
Ben took another bite and debated with himself—should he or shouldn’t he? For five more big bites he thought about it, staring at the container. Finally he could no longer resist.
He walked slowly across the room and ever so carefully took the container off the shelf, fearing that—horror of horrors—he’d spill the contents while sneaking a peek.
He set the container on the counter and carefully pried off the lid. He was almost scared to look inside! When the inside of the container came into full view, Ben’s eyes opened wide. Why, the container was empty—except for a little folded scrap of paper at the bottom.
Ben reached down for the paper, struggling to get his big rugged hand inside. He carefully picked it up by a corner, removed it, and slowly unfolded it under the kitchen light.
A brief note was scrawled inside, and Ben immediately recognized the handwriting as that of Martha’s mother. Very simply it said: “Martha—To everything you make, add a dash of love.”
Ben swallowed hard, replaced the note and the container, and quietly went back to finishing his cake. Now he completely understood why it tasted so good.
Even though for the first thirty years of their marriage, Ben couldn’t quite identify his wife’s “secret herb,” he knew it was there—and that it made a wonderful difference in his wife’s cooking. If you’re the wife in the marriage partnership, I suspect that you have added your own secret ingredient to many aspects of your marriage.
We’ll be talking about the role of a wife this week and offering several definitions, but most of it boils down to this: As you help and care for your husband, add a dash of love to everything you do.
- James C Dobson
- From Night Light For Couples, by Dr. James & Shirley Dobson Copyright © 2000 by James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved.
- “Martha’s Secret Ingredient” by Roy J. Reiman, courtesy of Reminisce magazine. Used by permission.