Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Cat and Dog (09/04/14)
- TITLE: Potted Meat Perspectives on the Pecking Order
By Noel Mitaxa
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Ten o’clock and all is calm. As usual.
The front doorbell’s sonorous clanging suddenly shreds our idyll.
We look at each other, for nobody has yet visited us. With no pets at this stage―though I’ve since learned that dogs always presume that whoever knocks or rings is calling for them; while cats simply drape their faces with dismissive boredom―I decide to answer.
From the lounge room window I notice a vaguely-familiar black car parked beneath an oak tree in front of the house. But the small entry foyer’s frosted glass panes beside the heavy front door offer nothing but a glimpse of a tall, shadowy figure―with a strange swelling on one side―outside.
Reaching for the door handle, I pull it open.
To see dear old Sister Effie, looking slightly ill-at-ease. With a basket looped over her elbow, she ventures. “Is it all right to visit?”
“No worries,” I nearly laugh. “Come on in.”
Sweeping past me and into the cavernous lounge room―where our sparse furnishings are fruitlessly trying to cover as much of the carpet as they can―Effie smiles at my wife and accepts our offer to occupy the only other chair.
Relaxing in this limited luxury, Effie explains her hesitation. “The pastor who just left made it clear that this was his house. I always thought that was a bit rich because he hadn’t laid a dollar down to pay for it. And we could only visit here if he’d made an appointment for us to come―which usually meant that somebody was in trouble. And it certainly wouldn’t be him.
“He was a strange piece of work. He insisted on using the King James Version. All those thees and thous that I could see turning young people off in droves. I mean, I grew up with that version, but I don’t limit my reading to newspapers and magazines that were also published in 1611!”
While cynics might say that hospitality is the art of making people feel at home―when that’s where you’d prefer them to be; we’ve been blessed over the years by opening our home.
We assure Effie of a welcome at the manse anytime; a limited offer at best; since our final year of our ministry training is split between weekends in this newly-begun rural ministry and weekday lectures, tutorials and class presentations at college in town. Emphasising the split; our “country weekender” could swallow our college “town house” in its lounge room―having been a private hospital in a previous life.
She responds by opening her basket, to reveal a plate of cupcakes and a dish I’ve not tasted since I was a kid: potted meat. That morning, I’m all hers. But let me explain.
A week earlier I’d called on her at home. Following her into her kitchen, I saw that she had just completed making this cold-serve delicacy of ox tongue; cooked in its own juices; pressed into a bowl with aspic added to make it set; before inverting the bowl over a plate for slicing and serving.
I never knew if potted meat was poor people’s food. (Not that we were poor, for my parents were in the iron and steel business―Mum used to iron and Dad used to steal!!!) But it was delicious in salads or in sandwiches. The sight of it on Effie's kitchen bench-top rapidly triggered strong memories of Mum’s output; but our conversation had moved on.
Or so I’d thought…
Now here on this Saturday morning I'm faced with my personal supply―with a slight Dickensian mix. One up on Oliver Twist; I have more; with Effie being happy to meat my Great Aspictations!
Thereafter, almost every Saturday morning, Effie came with cupcakes and other treats. Yet a wry smile and a twisted rationale always accompanied her generosity. Some of her best excuses have stayed with me …
“The cat turned its nose up at these, so I wondered who might appreciate them….
“The dog saw them in his dish and decided to leave home…
“My last batch put the chickens off laying eggs for a week… so I decided to dump them on you.”
It was all part of Effie’s year-long game; and I sometimes wondered which way the pecking order went.
From cat … dog … chickens … to pastor.
Upwards or downwards???
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