“Happy birthday,” my friend Gwen trilled, bending to place a bouquet of flowers on the step last week, in kind observance of my advancing age. As we exchanged a few furtive words—from a safe distance—I thought about how much I miss visitors. Mind you, it’s not like I get a lot of them. Out here in the sticks the majority of people at my door are either hopelessly lost, pressing faith-based literature into my hand or selling aerial photographs. However, while I do have the occasional friend drop by to share a meal, and enjoy preparing big family dinners, I must admit they’ve not all gone well.
The first example was no party, but the meal left quite an impression. When my husband and I set up our first home we hired a backhoe operator. He did a fine job, so when lunchtime rolled around I called him in to take a break. I’d taken care to prepare a tasty home-cooked meal, and he leaned back comfortably in his chair to pick his teeth with the edge of a folded napkin and relax, before loading up his equipment to leave.
That’s why, after receiving his bill in the mail, charging us for an hour of overtime (the hour he’d spent lounging at my kitchen table) I was—disgruntled to say the least. Never again will I PAY someone time and a half to eat my cooking.
Another memorable meal opens on a table laden with food. Joining us was a couple we knew, but not well. Certainly we had no prior knowledge of the gargantuan appetite lurking beneath the pleasant smile and quiet manners of the man. We soon learned. Systematically he began to build a volcano on his dinner plate.
First he laid a solid, one inch foundation of mashed potatoes across the length and breadth of the dish, smoothing it evenly with a spoon and hunkering low to squint at it assessingly, thus ensuring a level work surface. Next he dealt half a sliced turkey across its width; extending to the outer reaches of the platform. Then he artfully arranged further layers of carrots, peas and stuffing; each one separate unto itself and ending just inside the outer ring. It now towered a good three inches into the air and vaguely resembled the great pyramids of Egypt. Finally, with infinite care he placed a large dollop of cranberry sauce at the summit of this mountain-scape, before all was smothered with a pitcher of gravy that spilled down the sides like molten lava and pooled thickly on the tablecloth below.
“Sorry about that,” he said, following my eyes.
My husband and I sat agape at this spectacle; all movement and discussion had ceased. Clearly though, his wife was well-used to the experience and impatiently waited for my husband to finish with the potato bowl he had absent-mindedly picked up. As he dug his spoon into what was left of the decimated vegetable, I kicked him smartly under the table in an effort to bring him back to his senses, and not take what remained.
“OW!” he yelled. “Why are you kicking ME?”
Why indeed, I thought sadly, as a series of empty bowls made their way back to my hand. Yes, while I miss entertaining friends and family during this time of isolation I can always look back and remember—the good times.
Helen has lived on the family farm in the Lloydminster area much of her life. To follow Helen or for information on her book, see prairiewool.com