Monday, September 21, 2009

"And We Came Away Happy..."

Saturday night we went out to Margo and Gerald's house for a late night supper and then dessert sitting around the fire ring in their yard.

The four of us are good friends of some years now. Margo and Gerald were the first couple we socialized with as a couple. Back when we were not "out" yet publicly, Margo had invited me to come to supper on Thanksgiving. I asked if I could bring a friend. Sure. I could not interpret the look on Margo's face or her sudden laughter when Warren came to the door with me that long ago evening. Several months later, over coffee, Margo confessed she had speculated to Gerald that the "friend" I was bringing was a puppy (Margo and Gerald are dog people) and she was so convinced it was a puppy that she was momentarily stunned when Warren emerged from my car.

To this day, I never drive up their long driveway without thinking "I'm not bringing a puppy this time either."

We were a little late getting there; dinner was delayed a little longer while the brats and the cut vegetables - peppers, yellow squash, leeks - roasted. Margo had also made baked beans. We had brought homemade coleslaw (the cabbage coming from Mrs. Hough's garden) and roasted potato salad made with our entire crop of potatoes. We also carried in a homemade apple pie still warm from the oven.

[A word about the entire crop of potatoes going into the potato salad: that morning we had dug the potatoes that I had never planned on growing in the first place. They were from seed potatoes that my friend Scott brought over because someone gave them to him and while he couldn't grow them in his yard, he hated to throw them away. So did I. So I planted them in the sod garden and trusted Nature to know what to do with them. Per Pa Ingalls, you "can't get much from a first year on sod ground." We had just enough to make the salad - about three pounds - and not a potato more.]

While we ate supper, we kept exclaiming over the variety of flavors and textures and tastes of the meal spread before us. The food was good. And as we ate, we talked of many things as we always do.

One of the topics was food nostalgia: what tastes do you remember from your childhood that you sometimes yearn for (or even seek out) just because it reminds you so much of home?

For me, it was the coleslaw we brought. My grandmother Skatzes, who always had Thanksgiving at her house when I was little, made a vinegar dressing coleslaw that I loved so much that I was in my twenties before I learned to tolerate more conventional (i.e., creamy) coleslaws. When Grandma died, that recipe died with her for thirty years until I discovered that Barberton chicken is always served with a side of almost identical slaw. It is once again the only type of slaw I make.

My story led Warren to compare my slaw dressing to one his father made for thinly sliced cucumbers and onions. That sparked a memory in Gerald of a similar dish, causing him to comment that he didn't even like the dish that much, but sometimes wanted just a taste of it because of the memories it brought back. That led to a story about switching the mashed turnips for the mashed potatoes on his Thanksgiving table.

Chinese author Lin Yutang wrote, "What is patriotism but the love of the good things we ate in our childhood?" If that quote had been put to the test Saturday night, it would have been immediately proven true.

After our meal, we cut thick slices of the pie and took them outside to the fire ring. Gerald and Warren spent several minutes rekindling and then building the blaze, then we all pulled our chairs up close and ate pie and talked. Our talk ranged widely from the Symphony to United Way to which snakes give birth live (rattlers, among others) to the fact that a log in the fire ring looked like a large frog squatting in the flames. When the fire was particularly hot, we would scoot our chairs away; we'd pull back closer when the flames cooled and the cooler night air wove its way back in among us.

Margo and Gerald live just far enough out of town that you forget Delaware is right over there. Their house and yard are surrounded by fields farmed by the Skinners; this year the Skinners planted soybeans. Sitting out in the yard around the fire ring, listening to the late summer katydids and crickets, looking up at the stars, talking and sharing among us, is one of my favorite things to do.

It was almost one a.m. when we all finally realized we were tired and it was time to head to our respective beds. (Margo and I had been quietly testing out that notion on our own at ringside.) We stumbled into the kitchen, its cheery red and white floor all the brighter for the early hour, exclaimed as we always do over the lateness of the time, and said our goodnights. It never fails to amaze us that we are so compatible and talk so much that it is usually the next day before we end our evening.

Kentucky author Jesse Stuart wrote, "We went to our supper table hungry, and we came away happy, full of food and great dreams." I thought of that quote as we drove home. We too all came to the table hungry: hungry for the good food, hungry for the good talk, hungry for the good friends. And like Jesse, we all came away happy, full of good food and great friendship.


Moving on up! said...

Those potatoes look gorgeous! Yum.

Captain's Wife - Jennifer said...

What a wonderful evening. I have had those kinds of evenings so it was so easy to just slip right into your writing. memories. My Grandma Edna made the best hamburgers ever and I have yet to be able to even find on or make one that comes close. We'd walk do the street to the corner store - she had this dressy navy blue jacket and wore some really bright lipstick! - and we'd buy the meat and buns and potatoes. She did this thing with the bun, like it was a little greasy yet crispy around the edges. I can't figure that out either, darn it. :) And the fries she made! Real cut up potato fries. Ahhh. Thanks a bunch for this wonderful trip down memory lane. :) Good night! Oh, and PS I think I have had the most fun with the things that only grew a our potatoes and carrots!

Sharon said...

I would have been so excited to see potatoes!! It sounded like a wonderful evening, and it invoked wonderful memories for me just reading your story. Of course, when you say childhood, I immediately gravitate to candy apples and funnel cake....hmmmm...

Thanks for sharing your evening!

Ellen said...

How lucky you are to have great friends! I wonder if you ever read back over your own "online journal"--there are some great memories here. The food sounds wonderful. I miss the down-to-earth table of the Midwest. Thanks once again for sharing.