My dear Skirts, I am so sorry to have been absent for a whole week! But if necessary I can produce a bona fide doctor’s note for a virus. Equally importantly I just got my computer back from cleaning and revamping since it had been taken over by nasty evil cyber creepy-crawly viruses while I was tramping around the world. So I’m spending today reinstalling all my software, in between sneezing and coughing. It’s nice when you and your electronic devices can be sick together.
Not a whole lot has been happening down here since we returned from Pennsylvania – I’ve been flat-out on the couch watching old movies. I did learn one thing: no matter the time of day or night, there is always a rerun of MASH on one channel or another.
Fortunately there are still a few PA-based anecdotes to relate. The first happened the day after I arrived back in the country. My dad wanted to stop at a grocery store to get a rosemary bush in the shape of a small Christmas tree as a gift for my aunt. We picked out little tiny ornaments for it as well, and a tree topper in the shape of a moose. (Bullwinkle is Christmasy, right?) We got in the fast lane at the grocery store, impatient to check out and bring our gift to my aunt’s house. We were behind a little old lady in a scooter whose groceries were already packed up and sitting in the scooter’s basket. Piece of cake, right?
As we waited, the woman repeatedly tried to enter the PIN number for her store credit card. This didn’t work. We joshed about it in the line, saying we knew she’d be a troublemaker the moment we set eyes on her. Since the card still wasn’t working the manager was called to rectify the situation. As we listened it became clear that the woman was trying to use food stamps to cover her purchase and didn’t have enough. The employee at the register and the manager shuffled about trying to explain while the scooter woman began a flustered search of her purse. My mom looked at my dad. He asked the lady at the register how much the scooter woman’s groceries cost. They looked at each other again, then Dad got out his credit card and paid the lady’s grocery bill.
The scooter lady tried not to let us pay at first, but Dad insisted, saying “Merry Christmas; Happy Thanksgiving.” The store employees all beamed. The woman at the register threatened to cry. We got the scooter lady’s bill sorted out and off she rolled with her groceries.
In that moment I was grateful. I was proud of my dad, and thankful to be present while such an act of kindness and generosity could be offered and accepted. People talk about the true spirit of the season, and I think that was a real expression of it. I’m glad I got to be part of it, even if I was only a spectator.
That feeling of thanksgiving and good-will-towards-men lasted until Friday morning. At this point I was staying at my aunt’s house and my mom had come over to pick up a business package delivered for my dad. She and my aunt went out for a walk and when they came back two neighbors were standing in front of the house holding the packages. They asked, “is that your car?”
In the spirit of being grateful I should say that fortunately it was a rental. Unfortunately the delivery service van had just sideswiped it where it sat innocently parked, tearing off the whole front bumper.
Then there began much rushing back and forth to the phone, calling the delivery service, calling my dad, calling the rental agency, calling the neighbors. I was commandeered to take photos of the damage. The ladies next door confirmed they’d seen the van driving away after a great big CRUNCH, and the car rocking back and forth with its bumper newly mown off.
Eventually the delivery guy returned, not because we called but probably to deliver another package on the same street. We flagged him down and pointed out the damage. After a while another company employee showed up whose personal motto seemed to be “deny, deny, deny.” The company basically tried to tell us it couldn’t possibly have been their van, and nobody had actually seen it happen. We rejoindered that there aren’t many cars the same color as their delivery trucks, so how could they explain the large smear of that same paint along our white car? At this point we called the police to take statements from all parties.
Mom and I tried to stay out of it as much as we could, though I admit to some peering through the living room windows to see whether the police were taking forensic photos or what. Earlier in the week Mom had told a funny story about her favorite Thanksgiving being the time that she and my dad rented a mobile home to drive to her parents’ house, and then when they refilled it at the gas station the thing got stuck in the entrance ramp and hanging out over the road when they tried to drive away. They’d had to call my grandfather and her brothers to get railroad ties and jack the thing up to get it going again. She said, “well, this trumps that time because you get extra points when there’s a policeman involved.”
The following morning, after the damaged car had been returned to its home and we’d gotten a brand shiny new one to bust up in its place, my parents came over early to pick me up on the way to the airport. They suggested we go up the street to a little diner they knew so we could have some scrapple before we headed off.
Scrapple is a regional specialty of Pennsylvania Dutch country. It’s far too disgusting to be sold anywhere else. Actually that’s not true; countless places in the world have their very own special recipes of what to do with all the meat scraps after all the good stuff is gone. I was trying to describe scrapple to two British friends before I left Cairo and one of them confidently said, “ah, black pudding.” It’s similar in the sense of being made of leftover bits of offal that would otherwise go to waste, and in that when you explain to people what it’s made of they often recoil, but in terms of taste, texture, and how they are prepared they are quite different.
Scrapple is basically sausage filling – leftover bits of scrap and some flour for binding – that is formed into a loaf instead of put in a casing. Then you slice it up and pan-fry it. It’s a savory taste, kind of bitter and a little musky like sage. Black pudding doesn’t really taste like that; it has more of a salty tang for obvious reasons.
That morning was my grandfather’s birthday, my aunt reminded us as we sat around the table. She remembered he used to eat his scrapple with maple syrup. So there we sat, porking up our arteries with slabs of fried not-quite-meatloaf topped with syrup, toast, and fried eggs. We talked and laughed and reminisced about the old days from when I was a small child or before I was born. It was like having a second Thanksgiving, except with the Pennsylvania-specific taste of scrapple instead of turkey.
I’m going to stop on that memory, but now that my computer works again look out for my next entry about the overzealous security at Allentown-Bethlehem regional airport!