Mashed Potatoes & Chicken Gravy
Corn on the cob
Sam (my brother)
Abby (first person)
Ginny (little sister)
“Come on! It’s ready” That’s what Mother always said when she finally got supper on the table. Despite earlier warnings, Daddy was just now washing up out back in the utility room. “Pshaw!” My Grandpa said to my brother Sam. “That dog won’t never learn to hunt.” Sam gave up the stick lesson and slammed the wooden screen door behind him as he headed for the table. My Grandma was taking the last pan of yeast biscuits out of the oven and Aunt Kat was helping my little sister Ginny onto the phone books that raised her up to reach the table. I noticed we didn’t have any butter on the table yet and went to the refrigerator to get some. While I was there, I grabbed a glass of strawberry jam. I peeled the paraffin off of it and put it on the table. “Abby is that the last of the jam?” Mother asked.
“No, Mother. There’s still two more jars in the pantry.”
“We’ll need to make more this year. That stuff goes like water around here.”
After a few seconds of scraping chairs, shuffling feet and false starts, a mutual quiet settled over us. A big platter of crispy brown fried chicken sat in the middle of the old oak table. Next to it was a steaming pile of mashed potatoes with a puddle of bright yellow butter in the middle. It was starting to run down the side like lava down a volcano. A big bowl of green beans with chunks of ham peeking out sat there in Grandma’s old china serving dish, the one with the pink roses around the edge. Down at the end of the table was an oval platter of roastin’ ears. The steam rose off of them and seemed to curl around Grandma and Grandpa faces. Mother set down a wicker basket of fresh rolls. They smelled yeasty and were still hot to the touch. Their brown tops rose like little domes and their white insides were fluffy and delicate looking. A chilly bowl of applesauce, all lumpy and freckled with cinnamon was there next to the pitcher of yellow chicken gravy.
All heads bowed as Daddy began. “Our heavenly Father, we thank you for this food and for all that you have given us. Bless it to it’s intended use. Guide us and protect us, we pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” We didn’t rush to fill our plates. There was no need for that. The reverence of the moment of grace was still upon us as we took what was nearest us and passed it to the one beside us. As our plates began to brim over with food, we began to catch up on each other’s day.
“Where’d you work today?” Mother asked Daddy.
“Out at the back forty.” He answered. He broke an ear of corn for Ginny.
“See any more of Raymond?” Grandpa grinned. “Pass the gravy, please.”
“I reckon he’s seen enough of me for one day.” Daddy answered as he slathered butter on his corn and Ginny’s.
“I should think you’d be ashamed of yourself. Teasing poor old Raymond like that.” Grandma laughed. She nearly spilled applesauce onto her mashed potatoes.
“Well, he had it coming to him.” Daddy chuckled. “Thing is, he brought it all on himself.” My brother Sam couldn’t hold back the urge to shoot a glance at Aunt Kat. She was heaping green beans on top of her mashed potatoes, a practice that Sam and I were roundly reprimanded for when we did it.
“What did Raymond do?” Aunt Kat asked. She wasn’t here last night to hear the first part of the story. We knew that Daddy was about to tell the story again and we were delighted to hear it one more time. It was pretty funny.
“Would anybody like more iced tea?” Mother asked. She knew this was the last time she would get a chance to ask for a while. She filled up a few glasses and added a little ice.
Daddy poured the gravy over his potatoes and grabbed a chicken wing before he began telling the story.
“Well, you know, yesterday was election day.” He began.
“Mother, Ginny is picking the crumbs off her chicken!” Sam whined.
“Hush, Sam. Mind your own plate.” Mother tore some bites off Ginny’s chicken leg for her.
“You know the little house is empty now that Mom and Dad have moved into the big house with us. So Coz Hackett and I put together a little party over there night before last. We invited Doughbelly Grounds, Jim Abraham, Skeeter Davis and some of the other guys like that over there for a little get-together.”
“Now tell her how you arrived at your guest list.” Grandma prompted. She reached across for another roll and slathered it with the bright red strawberry jam. It dripped on her dress front.
“These guys aren’t Republicans or Democrats, either one.” Daddy explained. “Pass me some more green beans, Mother. They’re what you call floaters.” He dished out some more beans and handed them to Aunt Kat who was paying more attention to the story than her plate. “We didn’t know how they would vote and we knew they could sway the election either way. We didn’t want to do anything illegal or buy their votes or anything. We just wanted to keep them out of the polls.”
Grandpa, rolled his eyes and tossed another roll to my Mother, who shook it at him and grinned.
“We had some beverages over there at the little house and we had some snacks. Maurice Canatsey got up a pretty good card game and Lloyd Maxwell was carrying on and telling some pretty good tall tales. Up about midnight, though, the fellars began to get hungry. Doughbelly remembered there was a flock of leghorns running wild out in the barnlot of the old house and got the idée we should go out there and see if we could rustle some of ‘em up. Soooo they went out there and reckoned the chickens was roostin in that big old oak tree and they got a flashlight and shined it up there and sure enough, they were up there.”
“Daddy, I didn’t know chickens could fly high enough to get into trees.” I grabbed another ear of corn.
“Oh, yeah, Abby girl.” Grandpa said “They roost up there at night if they can get in a tree. They’re safer up there.”
“Well they was up there, alright.” Daddy went on. “ Old Maurice, he shined a flashlight on ‘em, so they wouldn’t move and Brandy Guy . . . “
“Brandy Guy was there, too!” Mother asked. Her eyebrows shot up. Where Brandy was there was usually trouble.
“Yeah, he was there.” Daddy broke apart another yeast roll. He smashed a pat of butter on half of it and took a bite. “Brandy Guy he climbed out on a limb and grabbed an old rooster. He twisted his head off and dropped it down to the fellars below. Then he’s go out on another limb and grab another one. The guys on the ground commenced to plucking and cleaning those old chickens right there under the tree. Went by there this morning and there’s feathers and chicken heads all over the ground!” Everybody laughed at that. It never bothered us that we were eating fried chicken while this story was unfolding.
“So while some of the fellars was getting’ chickens down out of the tree, some of the others was getting’ up a bonfire out there. They gathered up some pitchforks and took to roastin’ them chickens as fast as they could pluck ‘em.”
“It’s a wonder they weren’t all sick the next day.” Mother exclaimed. “Here Grandma, have some more applesauce. It’s good for what ails you.”
“So how late did the party go on?” Sam asked.
“Oh, all night and into the next day. That was the point.” Daddy laughed as his eyes sparkled over the brim of his tea glass.
“What was the point?” Ginny piped up. We didn’t realize she had even been listening.
“Well, they had pretty bad headaches the next day which was election day. They pretty much just stayed around the little house sleeping and telling tall stories.”
“Oh.” Ginny turned her attention to picking the beans out of her green beans. She dropped a piece of chicken on the floor for the dog but she didn’t think anybody saw it.
“What do you think the Republicans would think of your little party?” Asked Aunt Kat. It was suspected that Aunt Kat had pretty strong Republican leanings, though no one had ever proved it.
“Oh, I’m just getting’ to that!” Daddy put down his fork and lifted his tea glass so Mother could fill it one more time. “’Long about 4 o’clock Raymond and some of the other Republicans pulled up. Seems they’d gotten wind of our party and . . I don’t know, maybe they were sorry they didn’t get invited. Anyway, they started to walk up in the yard. That’s when Brandy Guy walked out. They knew better than to keep comin’ and Brandy was ready for them.
Raymond said ‘Brandy, you seen Skeeter or Doughbelly?’
Brandy says ‘Why you lookin’ for them?’
‘Why I come to give them a ride to the polls.’ Raymond said.
‘Well, they don’t want to go, anyhow.’ That’s what Brandy told them.
‘Why don’t you let them tell me that?’ said Raymond.
‘Cause I don’t want you on this property. And if you come in here, you’re not gonna leave until the polls close.’
‘Why I reckon I will, too.’ Raymond was getting’ mad.
And Brandy says ‘I reckon you won’t, cause if you come in here, I’m gonna tie you up with duct tape and you ain’t gonna get loose until the polls close. Now you sure you still wanna come get Doughbelly and Skeeter?’
Now what Raymond and them other Republicans didn’t see while they was arguing with Brandy was that out from the bushes Doughbelly and Skeeter was sneakin’ up on the trunk of their car. They opened the trunk and took out two big jugs that had corks in the tops of them. Then real quiet, they shut the trunk and run back behind the bushes and into the house.”
Now we got the whole picture. We all began to laugh. Even Aunt Kat. “Why Glen Grounds, you scallywag! You swayed the election! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
Daddy didn’t have to answer that. We all knew why we wouldn’t be seeing much of Raymond for while. When somebody gets the goods on you that fair and square, you just better lay low for a while until folks have something else to laugh about. But around these parts, it won’t take long for something else to happen to make us laugh. Just give it time.
Pass the corn, please. I’m working up an appetite here.