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May 27, 2024

Place Settings 24

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Twenty-four: This Old House

"Cable man called and said he'll be here right at noon," Maria informed them as they walked in the door with two enormous turkeys. "Asked me if I knew where I wanted the rowder and mode, but I don't know what a rowder is, so I told him to wait and ask you."

"The TV cable comes into the house, talks to a little box called a modem. It's like a robot translator for the signals. The router takes the translated signals and sends them to your computer or TV. I think putting the modem and router here near your TV would be okay. That way if I have to come over to troubleshoot, I don't have to crawl all over your house. We'll see what their equipment looks like, and maybe get a little table or shelf just for it."

"Okay. This is making me nervous. Old cave woman is entering a new world. Next thing you know, I'll find myself using one of your crazy phones."

"You could do worse. This phone takes pictures, plays music, it's a calculator, has the news, I could watch a movie on it, it has games I can play if I'm waiting somewhere, and everybody's phone number is stored on it, I don't have to try to remember all of it. Look, see this list? I just tap here, and ..." Gloria's phone began to buzz. "There's a file that has all my computer job contact numbers on it, too."

"Last time I take pictures was with a camera I had to put film in. I don't even know what happened to that camera, probably up in the attic."

"You have an attic?"

"Yes. Place where you put junk you forget you have."

"Sounds mysterious, and intriguing."

"Hmpf. Haven't been up there since before Bedencourt died. Stuff from his parents up there, stuff from my parents. I don't know what all is up there, and don't need to know, so I don't go up to look. There could be a raccoon city up there and I wouldn't know." Her eyes took on a twinkle. "Hey, let's tell this cable guy we want the modo and route up there and see how he handles it."

Ben laughed. "He'd say he needs a crane truck, and put you on a special customer waiting list that he wouldn't get around to until next June."

"Okay, fine. You watch for cable man, I break down a turkey."

"Gloria, you watch for the cable man. I'm going to watch Maria and the turkey breakdown."

Gloria was jealous, but she had more opportunity to observe Maria's techniques than Ben did, so to be fair, she let it go, but listened to Maria lecture.

"Here is breast bone, I feel for it, and put knife right up against it, just start sliding down the bone. Pull meat back a little, let the knife do the work, let the knife find the way. No hurry, or you cut yourself. All the way down here, to where the bone disappears and turns into soft stuff. Just peel and slide knife, peel and slide knife.

"Now here, on outside, cut this skin around like that, pull it up like a sleeve. See that line of white? This is God's way of telling you where to cut in. Now back to where we pull the meat back, and there, we have all that big solid turkey breast off in one piece."

"Can I do the other side?" Ben asked eagerly.

"No. You cut yourself here and your mother never let you come back. Not today, maybe some time, you have to ask her permission until you are eighteen."

"Cable dude is here," Gloria called from the front door. "Hey, Ben, could you send me those pics you took this morning? I want to show Steve and see if he knows anyone who needs a renter."

The cable man was clearly puzzled by the state of the equipment he'd encountered. "What I can do for you is get you set up for HD cable from the box to the TV, and get you the internet connection, but I'm going to have to get a crew out here to replace these old lines from the box out by the street, and that's going to take a couple weeks. You'll still have good TV, but it won't be as good as it will be. Any idea when that old cable was put in?"

"As old as that other TV over there," Maria said. "Cave man still hunting woolly mammoths then, I think."

"Wow," the young man said. "No wonder the cable ends are so corroded."

"But we will have internet, didn't you say?" Gloria asked.

"Yes, that shouldn't be a problem. But we'll probably replace some of that, too. The crew will have to dig a little and expose the conduit, but once they do that, they can realign the wiring."

"Fine, I don't understand, just tell Mr. Ben here, he take care of it. I have cooking to do." Maria went back to the kitchen.

Gloria followed along, curious to see what could be done with a turkey breast. Maria had the breast set off to the side on a plate, and was using her knife to remove the thigh and drumstick from the bird.

"We're going to put these legs and wings up for later, when we are back to work and the staff needs a good soup for lunch. Freeze now, then wrap them in foil and slow-cook them when we need them. But first ... " She made a slit in the skin of the drumstick and thigh from top to bottom, and pulled the skin off, using the sharp blade of the filleting knife to free it from the bottom of the drumstick. Setting the breast back on the cutting board, she removed the dark meat to the plate. "There are little bamboo skewers in a jar in that drawer over there," she directed Gloria. "Can you get them for me? Should have laid everything out before I started."

"You're going to use that skin to finish the breast, aren't you?"

"Aha, you almost ahead of me. See, all these skewers kind of ugly, but we'll pull them all out when it's done. Sew this skin onto the bottom of the turkey just like this. Trim off excess skin, don't need it for what we're going to do." She turned from the cutting board and washed her hands. Maria put a deep skillet on the stove, poured some corn oil into it, just about a quarter of an inch on the bottom of the pan, and turned on the gas. From the refrigerator she got an egg from the egg shelf, from the cupboard, a box of breadcrumbs. "Don't look, I'm using store bought junk again. Sometime, we can buy good bread and make good crumbs from the dry ends." From a can of flour, she scooped about half a cup and put it in a mixing bowl. The bread crumbs followed the flour into the big glass dish. "Now we change holiday turkey into deli turkey, she said, sprinkling a handful of dried oregano into the crumbs, along with some salt, pepper, and ground sage. She shook garlic powder and onion powder into the mix liberally, stirring with a fork.

She tested the oil for heat using a little piece of bread from the morning toast. Seeing it dance in the oil, she turned to Gloria. "We need a shallow bowl, use the fork and whisk the egg to smithereens."

"Smithereens," Gloria repeated.

Maria dusted the roll of turkey with flour, then bathed it in the egg, using her hand to make sure the whole thing was egged. And then she put it in the bread crumbs, tossing some over the whole piece of meat. Into the oil it went. "Okay, we're going to brown it all over, maybe for three minutes a side, till the whole thing is nice and golden and crispy. I use tongs to move it, probably have to hold it to get the little ends done." She set the oven to three-fifty. "When it's all nice and crunchy on the outside, we're going to put it in that roasting pan, the one on the right side of the lower cupboard, to finish cooking it all the way through the inside. Meat thermometer is in the top drawer. I used to just use a fork to see if the juice was clear, but when I was getting too sick, I had to use a timer to keep track of food, and thermometer to tell when it was done."

"Looks like time to turn," Gloria said, peeking at the skillet. "Shall I?"

"Please do, I wash up these dishes."

The cable man went outside to tinker with the incoming connection, and Ben walked over, sniffing appreciatively. "That smells really good already. Why can't I just move in here so you two can feed me on your days off, and I could be your house boy while you work?"

"Has crossed my mind," Maria said. "Then I could keep chickens and you could clean up the coop for me."

"You know I would take you up on that if I could," Ben told her.

"Just be patient. Enjoy your big house and make your mother happy. You grow up too fast for her as it is, I know."

"Do you think you'll eat all of that today? I ask this because I have another computer job tomorrow, over by the mall, so I could stop by and help you with your leftovers."

"Depends on how much Steve eats. He might not have any mercy for you," Maria told him.

"Steve?" Gloria asked, puzzled.

"Yes. I called him, told him to come over."

Ben closed his eyes and inhaled. "On that light rye bread. With crunchy shredded lettuce and mayonnaise."

Maria pointed a finger at Ben, then back at herself, then back at Ben. "Corruption works both ways, Boyo."

He laughed. "I am Boyo, hear me roar. I'm going outside to pester George the Cabelista."

"I've got to know ... why'd you call Steve?"

"You two have one week off together, and he doesn't show up on Thursday, not at all? You help clean house, do laundry, not on phone with him, nothing? I called him up to find out what is going on. He tells me he is being sent to Sonoma to help with warehousing inventory. Makes no sense. Do you need me to go talk to Martha Baker about this?"

"No. I'm okay with it. Ben and I were talking today about how much we miss our dad, and how we didn't really have the time to grieve his death before all of a sudden, we had to grow up and figure out how to save our family. We need some time, I need some time before I ... move on. If Steve goes to Sonoma for a while, I get that time to ... think, to remember Dad, maybe to cry sometimes. But I'm glad you called him, although having us all here might be ... a bit noisy and busy for you?

"Gloria, this is going to sound funny, but I like the way this house is since you came to live here. Everything is brighter, happier. People's voices are good in this house now. Wasn't always that way. Was hardly ever that way, so sad to say it. When my sons were little, they had cheerful faces, cheerful voices, but when they got old enough to help in the dairy, they didn't smile so much.

"They get to be teenagers and this house was one damn fight after another. They left to find their own ways in the world, and I was alone with my husband and he didn't have anyone to blame for anything but me, including that I was getting sicker by the month.

"Then he died." Maria turned the turkey. "I had to go to Confession with the priest to tell him ... I was glad Bedencourt was gone." She grimaced. "Then I was alone, and didn't talk out loud in this house, all silent and grim. Here, can you turn the turkey for me, while I take care of some business?"

Gloria picked up the tongs, knowing what the 'business' was, because she'd seen Maria's eyes get wet.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-05-17
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
11:47:10 AM
A lot of bonding going on, but I'm still worried about Philli and Lolo and Steve and Gloria. Ben and Maria seem to be coming along nicely. Family, I suppose, doesn't have to be blood-related.
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