I grew up on a diversified farm.
That meant many and varied chores needed to be performed regularly.
Baling hay, walking bean rows, building fences, milking cows and a never-ending list of other chores. I did them at home and for hire for others.
You might have noticed that I didn’t include cow tipping in that list of chores. I never knew how much I should tip a cow. I don’t know anyone who ever tipped a cow. I’d have loved to have seen someone try.
Most farm women brought out their finest fares for visitors. The women rolled out the red carpet and foods that they excelled at preparing.
My mother made pork chops. Not lean meat, but chops with plenty of fat for added flavor. They were delectable. At the end of the meal, the bones were covered with teeth marks from gnawing. Mom made potatoes of one kind or another and offered bread with plenty of Clarks Grove Creamery butter.
Other women fixed similar spreads.
I grew to expect the best in meals no matter which farm I toiled for. Each lady of the house fed me as if they were fattening me for market.
Then I got a job helping to build a pole building. It was a long-lasting employment. It didn’t pay much, but it paid.
On my first visit to that farm, I noticed that the grass grew well on only one side of their lawn. They let it grow long and raked it toward the other side. A lawn comb-over. It didn’t fool anyone.
They worked me like a rented mule.
I put up with slave wages, exhausting work and being yelled at (only because my boss was capable of yelling) while on my first day on the job because I knew that I’d soon be shoveling mass quantities of sumptuous food into my gaping gullet.
It wasn’t long before I was seated on a vinyl chair in a spotless kitchen, listening to an avocado-colored refrigerator making odd sounds. I wondered where my fork was and why no one appeared to be joining me for a delicious repast. I bit my lip. I was that hungry. Then I heard it.
I knew that music. It’s a sound, called a sting, often heard in movies and TV shows to express deep plot twists, drama or disaster. It was played on a variety of musical instruments. This time it was played on my intuition.
I knew instantly that while most farm women were great cooks, there was an exception to every rule.
The exception to the rule slapped a knife down with a couple of plates, a cardboard box and a plastic glass half-full of lukewarm tap water.
It was food that would have been more appropriately served on a folding, spindly-legged, metal TV tray.
There was no doubt that it would be a culinary misadventure.
My employer obviously had not gotten the memo that she was supposed to be a good cook. She might have been a fine cook, but she held back in my presence. Maybe she was a bad cook, I don’t know. I do know what I got to eat. Soggy crackers and butter. I heard that if she liked you, she broke out the good crackers — saltines that still maintained some crispness.
I got the bad crackers.
I’m not saying that every bite was sheer torture. What it was was soggy.
I took a bite. The devil made me chew it. My saliva hid and my taste buds whimpered. I chewed and I chewed, but swallowing was difficult.
The crackers needed gravy.
I enjoyed most of the meals that I received while working for others because they were fit for a king. This woman’s meal was no exception. “Here, King. Here, King.”
I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been a salt and mustard sandwich or she could have told me to go peel a possum.
I’d have been happier not eating any of it, but that would have been impolite.
It became a source of tension.
I made a mental note to bring my own lunch the next day. A bologna sandwich on Wonder Bread would be a gastronomic delight in comparison. Add a little ketchup and I’d be good to go.
I ate the soggy crackers. I wasn’t able to work as hard as I should have or that I normally did for the rest of that day.
I needed re-crisping.