Greetings from the Ridge.
It was the longest two days of my life.
Herb's cousins from Minnesota had come down to visit during the town's annual Burgoo celebration and Herb–I repeat, this was Herb's idea–called and said, "Heck, no need paying for a hotel! Come stay with us!" He will go to his grave claiming that I issued the invitation but the man lies.
Ervin and Jessie showed up on the day before the fest and when they were still just an hour away they called to give their whereabouts then they added, "Oh by the way, we hope it's no inconvenience, but we're vegetarian." Vegetarian? You come to stay for two days and on 60 minutes notice you announce that your host's meatball casseroles and T-bone steaks are now non-functional? What kind of deal was this?
Herb said, "That's because they're Democrats, Freida. All vegetarians are Democrats. You just watch. I'll bet they grind their own coffee beans."
"There's no such thing as a Republican who won't eat meat?"
"Only by marriage."
"That's ridiculous, Herb."
"True Americans eat meat. That proves it."
I briefly considered basting him with one of the T-bones I had thawing out on the counter, but they'd gone too soft. I needed something with heft–and preferably with a spike on the end.
That gave me 50 minutes to plan two days worth of menus for grass eaters, and I sent Herb to the store to raid the fresh produce section. "They're your relatives. See if you can find some cucumbers that taste like pork chops."
When Ervin and Jessie arrived I made some lame excuse about Herb's absence and offered them coffee. They asked if it was organic fair trade coffee. I told them that I supposed everything coming from the soil was organic and when I handed the lady at the supermarket my money she made me a free trade for the coffee. They smiled at each other. I could tell that I was in the company of assumed greatness. I offered them water. They'd brought their own. This was going to be a long weekend.
Don't misunderstand me, they were nice folks. In fact, I preferred them to their cousin Herb, but I spent the entire time afraid I'd slip up and offer them a slab of bacon in the peanut butter cookies. Breakfast was easy. It's not difficult to find meatless oatmeal, and cinnamon rolls without sausage are plentiful. However, the prospect of lunch loomed large in my mind and I settled on a variety of salads. Herb sat down to eat and said, "This is it?" Our guests assumed that Herb had suddenly got a cramp in his leg and didn't see my pointed shoe make contact with his left shin. For supper we went down to the town's festivities where they contented themselves with a plate full of elephant ears. Tell you the truth, I was a nervous wreck all weekend, wondering if it was kosher to eat meat in front of a vegetarian. I mean, if they were avoiding meat on moral grounds then would I be committing a sin by chewing a cheeseburger right in front of them?
We foraged on grains again for the second day's breakfast and they were leaving that evening so that left me only lunch to contend with. So far I'd been able to avoid any gastronomic faux pas and had sternly warned Herb not to mention meat. Two days of salads would put a spotlight on my lack of imagination so I opted for pasta. After searching in vain for free range spaghetti, I settled on meatless lasagna and it wasn't hard to find a dessert without pork. Ervin and Jesse were both subtle as they lifted each layer to inspect for traces of nefarious protein, and both deemed the meal pleasing. I told Herb to keep quiet and wait until supper when we'd have four steaks and two beefy casseroles to consume.
When their Toyota Prius finally pulled out of the drive and headed northward I breathed a sigh of relief and Herb muttered, "Next time they can stay in a motel. You nearly starved me to death."
"You know Herb, all weekend we suffered and your cousins were happy as clams. They're lean and healthy while you and me are on a first-name basis with every medical professional in the county. Maybe there's something to this meat-free lifestyle."
"Let's go eat those steaks."
And we did.
You ever in Coonridge, stop by. We may not answer the door but you'll enjoy the trip.
In real life, Freida Marie Crump is Ken Bradbury, retired teacher, author, musician and playwright who hangs out in Arenzville, IL.