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Friday, August 27, 2004

Short Story Collection - Senior College Project

Introduction - My Inspiration

"Think about your intentions," Bao Bomu says. "What is in your
heart, what you want to put in others." -Amy Tan, from The
Bonesetter's Daughter



Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, said of her writing, "For
the record, I don't write to dig a hole and fill it with symbols. I
don't write as ethnic themes. I don't write to represent life in
general. And I certainly don't write because I have answers" ("In the
Canon..."). I do not write to fill a hole with symbols either. But I
do write to explore the signs and symbols of the society and culture
in which I live. My stories tend to be an elaboration on my life
experiences; as is the case with "The Golden Calf" and "An Incomplete
Supper." But I also like to look at the larger forces and cultural
trends of America. The American icon of the cowboy shows up in "Lee
Family BBQ Sauce." And the American phenomenon of chain restaurants
provides a setting for "The First Supper."
When I started working on this project I understood that food
could have a great impact on a person as well as on a people. And one
of the things I needed to do for this project was to determine the
ways in which food impacts us. My list of the ways food impacts us
when I started consisted of psychologically, physically, and
sociologically as a representation of culture. I now understand that
food impacts us in all those ways, while it also affects us in the
ways that we relate to our culture, and the ways our culture relates
to us. Food in my stories represents all these things.
The stories I present here are inspired by food, and reading them
with this in mind is important. But these stories are also
explorations of identity; specifically what are the experiences of
men and women in relation to food. All of my stories have some
element of this struggle that occurs in individuals when they are
part of or are not part of the assigned cultural roles for men and
women. The child's memories of the mother in "The Golden Calf" are of
her in the kitchen. One of Will's problems, in "The First Supper," is
that his wife is dead and he can't cook for himself. Ruth seduces
M.T. in part with her BBQ ribs in "Lee Family BBQ Sauce." And the
father fondly remembers his mother's cooking in "An Incomplete
Supper."
Over Christmas and Spring break I went home and spent time with my
family. Being home during this time gave me the opportunity to do
some cooking. In fact, I tried to cook every day so my mother would
not have to. And through this experience I learned both the
satisfaction achieved from cooking my own food and also the emotional
turmoil cause by others eating and critiquing my cooking. I learned
that cooking is limitlessly time consuming, complicated and
under-appreciated. I think back now to growing up and how my mother
always had a meal on the table for us and I wish I could somehow pay
her back for the time that took and my complaints about some of the
dishes she cooked. These experiences have encouraged me, in my
stories, to include men and women with different views of food and
eating and life.
Death is also an unintentional but important theme in these
stories. The calf dies in "The Golden Calf," Will ascends to Country
Kitchen heaven in "The First Supper," and the father receives his
last meal in "An Incomplete Supper." These stories are a little more
spiritual than "Lee Family BBQ Sauce" and they reflect some of my
personal beliefs. I was raised a Christian, and many Christian myths
concerning food are present in these stories. "The Golden Calf" is a
story about communion, "The First Supper" represents a contemporary
vision of the glory of heaven, and "An Incomplete Supper" is a
corruption of the story of the Last Supper.
Why Have I Written About
Food?

"Authors could be divided into two groups: those that mention
food, indeed revel in it, and those that never give it a second
thought." -Atwood, in Bevan page 51
Chopping. Slicing. Dicing. Boiling. Simmering. Baking. Broiling.
Frying. Mixing. Combining. Sifting. These are just some of the words
that we use to describe the preparation of food. Chewing. Swallowing.
Cutting. Sampling. Devouring. Nibbling. Tasting. These are some of
the words that we associate with eating. Food is one of the constants
in the human experience. Certainly there is an almost limitless
variety of food in the world. But the fact is that all people need to
eat to live. But there are some general guidelines that cultures
follow when determining what is edible.
Cultures as well as individuals tend to arrange the potentially
edible into various standard divisions. Lowest on the totem pole come
things that may look like food but are actively poisonous, such as
amanita muscaria mushrooms and deadly nightshade berries. Next come
things which might potentially be eaten but are considered
disgusting: earthworms and slugs fall into that category for us,
though others gobble them up with no problem. Next come foods that
are know to be foodstuffs for some, but which are taboo to others for
religious reasons: meat for Sikhs and pigs for Orthodox Jews, for
instance. The taboo of taboos for most of us is human flesh,
nutritious as it doubtless is. (Bevan 52)

It is the universality of food that drives me to write about
eating. The act of eating is a universal experience, even if what is
eaten is quite different from culture to culture.
I became interested with the idea of food as a part of literature
and culture while studying multicultural literature. In works of
people like Amy Tan and Bernard Malamud, food seemed to take a more
active role in the story than in pieces of literature by John Updike
or James Joyce. Through the research I've done on this topic I now
know that food has many important roles in many different types of
literature. But there are still differences in the ethnic American
representation of food. One difference is that the dishes are
described symbolically not only in terms of consumption but also in
terms or preparation. Scene after scene in The Joy Luck Club shows
the importance of food preparation and not simply the consumption we
see in a book like The Dead. This is one area in which I think my
stories were rather unsuccessful. I really wanted to explore in these
stories the preparation of meals in a way similar to Tan but it did
not happen.
The foods in these ethnic American stories were also intriguing
because they are out of my everyday experience of food. Amy Tan
writes about the preparation of exotic Chinese dishes like a chicken
stew made with the blood as an important part of the broth (in The
Hundred Secret Senses), as well as more tame dishes such as steamed
crabs. Bernard Malamud writes about white fish and the local bakery.
I grew up with supermarket bread and fish sticks.
My inexperience with different ethnic foods might sound odd, but I
lived all of my childhood in rural Wisconsin. There wasn't a Chinese
restaurant nearby, and we bought our bread from a supermarket or made
it ourselves. The only ethnic food that I was familiar with was
Mexican and Italian. The Italian food consisted of lasagna,
spaghetti, and pizza. And the Mexican food was a corrupt fast
food/school cafeteria version of tacos and burritos that I never
liked. There is now a Chinese restaurant near where I live, but that
opened just last year. I had a great time taking my 30-something
brother (who had never had Chinese food before) there and watching
him experiment with the different dishes. But I also know people who
refuse to eat Chinese food because they think that rice looks like
fly maggots. And I know other people who will not eat spaghetti
because they think it looks like worms. All I can say is that they do
not know what they are missing; trying new foods is risky, but there
can be great pleasure in finding new flavors and new combinations of
familiar ones. Traveling to Chicago for a sociology class let me see
that there are truly ethnic communities where the neighborhood bakery
is not only in existence but is important to daily life. It is where
they get their daily bread. The baker's shop provides the food to
satisfy a physical need, but it also functions as a meeting place in
a way that the mega-grocery store cannot. Ultimately, I would like to
travel to other countries to experience more genuine forms ethnic
cooking as parts of unique cultures. But for now, I will have to be
satisfied with the food produced by immigrants to this country.
This fascination with various cultures' foods is what gave me the
idea to write stories in which some of the foods that I am familiar
with are elevated in importance. I found that part of this process
was defining what an "American" food is. Since our culture is such a
blending of many different cultures, our foods are mostly modified
imports from the mother countries of the people who immigrated to
America. The Italians brought their pastas, the Germans brought their
beer and brats, the British brought their beef dishes and the Chinese
have inspired stir fry. It is also important to note that truly
"American" foods, foods that were either created in America or are
now totally identified with America, are seen as inferior to other
foods. We tend to hold French and Chinese cooking in higher esteem;
this practice seems to be an offshoot of the practice of euro
centrism.
So, I focused not on particularly "American" dishes but on the
innovations in the preparation and consumption of food as well as the
eating habits of the average American. We, on average, eat more meat
than the rest of the world; and so, two of my stories include meat.
We eat out more than other countries; and so, I have written about
eating out. And we associate certain foods with the unpleasant
atmosphere of hospitals.
My story, "An Incomplete Supper," that is set in a hospital, turns
on the significance of green gelatin. Gelatin is a product that
existed for many years before a company decided to patent and package
it. Before J-ELLO, the preparation of gelatin was an extremely
difficult process. And only the very rich could afford the time to
make it him or her self or the trained chef to prepare it for them.
It was the American commercialization of gelatin into J-ELLO that
made it common. In other stories that are unfinished at this point I
write about Twinkies (and the protest induced Twinkie shortage of
last year), popcorn (I work at a theater and I have made more popcorn
in my life than I care to remember) and ordering prepared food for
delivery.
I have found the exercise of writing stories that focus on a
particular theme to be interesting. It is much like writing formal
poetry. Bound by certain rules and restrictions I try to stretch
things as far as the form will allow. Probably my most "stretched"
story is "Lee Family BBQ Sauce." I managed to work in a romance, a
rodeo, a few questions about sexual identity, and some interesting
characters into a story that was inspired by BBQ ribs.
And the ultimate reason I write about food is because for many
years I had a relationship with food that was not healthful. When I
started working on the topic of food in literature last fall I was in
the early stages of a change. For a long time I used food as a tool
for comfort and consolation. Food can still be a comfort, but I am
learning to approach it from a more practical stand point as well. I
eat foods that are enjoyable, but I also eat a variety of foods in
order to better maintain my health. I'm also exploring the memories
and associations I have with various foods as well as some of our
cultural associations with food. As Charlotte Perkins Gilman writes:
"The stomach should be left to its natural uses not made a
thoroughfare for stranger passions and purposes" (242). Writing about
some of my food menaces has allowed me to get the attachment to those
foods out of my system.
As part of my "recovery," I have taken a greater interest in the
preparation of a wider range of food. I am experimenting in the
kitchen with things I see on cooking shows as well as my own ideas. I
also try to figure out how restaurants make various dishes. Atwood
talks about this in her introduction to The CanLit Foodbook: "A word
here about writers, their writing and their cookery: the relationship
between work and deed is not so simple as you think. That is, some
write about it but don't do it, others do it but don't write about
it, some do both, and others do neither. Sort of like sex (52)." I am
definitely becoming a person who does both (the cooking), which is
both more healthful and more satisfying. Gilman, in Women and
Economics, describes cooking as an art and a science: "As a science,
it verges on preventive medicine. As an art, it is capable of noble
expression within its natural bounds" (239).
Cultural Feminism and
Food

A house is no home unless it contains food and fire for both the
mind as well as for the body. -Margaret Fuller, page 36
Cultural feminism argues that women, throughout history, have been
made second-class citizens by the favoritism of the masculine in
every aspect of culture and society. Cultural feminists argue for a
change in the general mode of thinking among people but also in
specific cultural institutions such as religion, education and home
life. Josephine Donovan explains that "instead of focusing on
political change, feminists holding these [cultural feminist] ideas
look for a broader cultural transformation ... they also stress the
role of the non-rational, the intuitive and often the collective side
of life" (31). The roots of cultural feminism in America can be
traced back to Margaret Fuller, who wrote Women in the Nineteenth
Century in 1845; this book explores the aspects of knowledge that
relate to emotion and intuition (Donovan 32). Fuller establishes that
the main problem is that the men in charge were favored by the way
things were so they were reluctant to help.
When not one man in the million, shall I say? no, not in the
hundred million, can rise above the belief that Woman was made for
Man--when such traits as these are daily forced upon the attention,
can we feel that Man will always do justice to the interests of
Women? (Fuller 36)
Fuller argued, like the arguments for the slaves, that women are
humans they should be given similar treatment to me. "So should the
friend of Woman assume that Man cannot by rights lay even well-meant
restrictions on Woman" (Fuller 37). Fuller also suggests that the
problem isn't just a women's problem; it is a problem for all of
society. "Yet, then and only then will mankind be ripe for this, when
inward and outward freedom for Woman as much as for Man shall be
acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession" (Fuller 37).
Fuller set down exactly what she wanted for women. "I would have her
free from compromise, from complaisance, form helplessness, because I
would have her good enough and strong enough to love one and all
beings, from the fullness, not the poverty" (Fuller 119-120). She is
arguing in this one simple statement against all the beliefs her era
held about women. And she was not afraid to introduce controversial
ideas.
Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical
dualism. But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another.
Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly
masculine man, no purely feminine woman. (Fuller 115-116)

The story in this collection that works with these ideas most is
"Lee Family BBQ Sauce."
M. T., in that story, does not fit into either the stereotypical
male heterosexual or male homosexual roles. He is a person who
changes his sexual identity based on the individual he is in love
with instead of demanding to fall in love with a specific person.
This is inspired in part by The Gay Mystique by Peter Fisher. But it
also comes from a desire I had while writing these stories to
challenge the typical sexual roles. I also do this by creating women
who are powerful. Ruth, like the Biblical inspiration for her name,
is a committed person. But unlike the Biblical Ruth she does not
follow blindly. Ruth, in "Lee Family BBQ Sauce," is trying to make
her dreams come true. And Telly in "The First Supper" serves as an
angel of death.
Later cultural feminists get into the economics of the feminine
situation and even specifically the economics of food. But Fuller
initiated the idea that a man's work and a woman's work are not valid
distinctions in a culture where women are recognized as equals.
Were thought and feeling once so far elevated that Man should
esteem himself the brother and friend, but nowise the lord and tutor,
of Woman,--were he really bound with her in equal
worship,--arrangements as to function and employment would be of no
consequence. (Fuller 37-38)

Fuller laid the ground work for later cultural feminists. She
established a belief that the role of Woman (all women) could not be
defined by men. Later cultural feminists developed this idea and
explored how women's roles should be changed.
Donovan summarizes the beliefs of Fuller by saying that women
"have an intuitive perception that goes beyond reason to understand
the subtle connections among people and among all life forms; today
we would say, woman's vision is holistic" (34). The basic application
of these theories of how a woman views the world were used to suggest
changes in society by many people. One area examined is religion.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in The Woman's Bible, critically examined the
role of religion in maintaining the status quo for women and she
suggested how it might be changed to raise women from the bottom of
culture and to make religion better in general (Donovan 36-37).
Stanton's first suggestion in The Woman's Bible is a redefinition of
"God":
The masculine and feminine elements, exactly equal and
balancing each other, are as essential to the maintenance of the
equilibrium of the universe as positive and negative electricity, the
centripetal and centrifugal forces, the laws of attraction which bind
together all we know of this planet whereon we dwell and of the
system in which we revolve. (15)

The Women's Bible is Stanton's most recognized work. Other women,
like Gilman, have looked at the economic significance of a woman's
assigned roles (such as cook) and how it relates to the welfare of
society at large.
Expanding on the ideas of Fuller, many of Gilman's arguments are
based on the idea that changes need to be made that are good for all
humanity not just women. "Individual economic independence among
human beings means that the individual pays for what he gets, works
for what he gets, gives to the other an equivalent for what the other
gives him" (232). Gilman's fundamental argument is that women cannot
possibly be viewed as equals when they do not work outside the home.
Gilman disputes that husband and wife are business partners because
the wife has no capital, experience, or labor that is contributed to
the husband's business (233). "Man and wife are partners truly in
their mutual obligation to their children,--Their common love, duty
and service" (233). And it is also erroneous to tie a woman's
economic dependence on the man to her role as mother. "The women who
are not mothers have no economic status at all; and the economic
status of those who are must be shown to be relative to their
motherhood" (235). Gilman also explores how it has become the woman's
role to prepare the food.
"We have assumed that the preparation and serving of food and the
removal of dirt, the nutritive and excretive processes of the family,
are feminine functions" (237). The mother being trapped in the
kitchen is a far less common situation today than it was at the end
of the 19th century. Gilman advocated for a centralization of all the
major tasks in a house. She did so in order to promote the idea that
cooking cannot reach the level of art or science that it could if
there were people specializing in it.
What progress we have made in the science of cooking has been
made through the study and experience of professional men cooks and
chemists, not through the Sisyphean labors of our endless generations
of isolated women, each beginning again where her mother began before
her. (240)

This makes sense but I would argue that we grow closer to a
centralization of food preparation every year with the proliferation
of restaurants. This is not what Gilman was arguing for; it is really
a version of her vision corrupted by the corporations behind fast
food. However, I disagree with her vision in general. No single group
or single person should be responsible for the health and welfare of
the entire human population. It is probably the masculine tenet of
self reliance influencing me, but I feel that every individual should
be able to cook his or her own food. Other, more modern, feminist
concerns with food focus on different areas recent trends in fiction.

Sara Lewis Dunne, in her dissertation, The Foods We Read and the
Words We Eat: Four approaches to the Language of Food in Fiction and
Nonfiction, writes about the relationship between eating and speech:
"We eat and speak with the same physical organ, the mouth, and
whether we are reading about fictional food or food we might actually
eat, words are what link our disparate experiences together in a
common web" (6). With this idea she begins to describe how Roland
Barthes' ideas of language relate to modern "recipe fiction" (works
of literature that include recipes) and restaurant menus. "[Food
dishes] are seen in relation to one another rather than as larger
units of meaning; in other words, these individual dishes demonstrate
meaning the same way that words in a sentence do" (17-18). She also
spends some time discussing the importance of recipe fiction. This is
an ideal form of discourse for Dunne, because it blurs lines and
presents multiple, conflicting voices (54-77). I too find the idea of
recipes being part of a literary text beneficial so I am including
recipes along with each of my stories. The recipes for the first
three stories are my mother's, Karen Lentz. The last recipe is for a
rather common dish that I have experimented with. I have also
included poems with a few stories. These poems were inspired by the
same things as the story they are placed with.



MY STORIES

The Golden Calf
The low thunder rumble of a Ford engine is a child's friend on anxious spring days. That sound rattles through the decades and finds me when I least expect it. I fell asleep many times to the comforting sounds that fill the empty spaces of an F-350 cab: George Jones on the radio, the wind swirling around the edges of an open window, the sound of the tires rolling on the road, and the big blue cattle trailer firmly hitched to the truck bed. Thinking about that time I've realized that those innocent days curled up on the then spacious bench seat were some of the most peaceful I've ever spent. Traveling down the winding road rocking me side to side with the radio playing familiar cassettes that are known only by the feel of the discolored plastic shells because the writing is worn off, and the rumble of the engine a reminder that we were making progress. All these elements came together to induce sleep. Oblivious to the world around me, Dad guided the powerful truck toward the auction barn.

The engine slowing down to make the turn into the auction barn's parking lot woke me up as sure as throwing a bucket of water over my head. The day that calf escaped I remember waking to a haze that only I seemed to notice. Whenever I have seen that haze, strange things have happened. Maybe the haze is some sort of physical manifestation of my fuzzy thinking. That might be the best way to describe what happened that day.

Another day surrounded by that haze was several years earlier, before I started school. I was eating my lunch of peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches with milk. The strawberry jam was better than the kind you get in stores because my grandmother made it. I saw her freezer full to the top with jam once, it was a medium sized reach-in model. As peanut butter will do, it stuck to the roof of my mouth and I began to gag and cough and choke. Mom, for some reason I don't understand, rushed me outside while pounding on my back. Finally something let loose and a small red lump flew out and landed on the sidewalk in front of the house. Mom stared at the red thing and looked worried. Dad never fully convinced her that it was just a piece of strawberry from the jam.

At least that day in the truck I was greeted with one of my favorite songs: "Someday my day will come, when dreams become reality, I'll be the one I want to be, someday my day will come..." I sat up, my stomach grumbling and surveyed the familiar building to see if anything had changed. No, the same as it always was. The sun was at about the same angle in the sky as the low, soft roof on our house. I looked over at Dad. His powerful hands were confidently guiding the truck. I rubbed my stomach as I looked at Dad's bulging belly. When people saw us together they knew that he was my father and that I was his son.

As we drove around the rear of the buildings and pulled into the building where we were to unload the cattle I rubbed sleepily at my eyes and remembered the calf up in the nose of the cattle trailer. The building we pulled through to unload the cattle was one of the neatest buildings in the place. It was a huge pull shed that had many uses. On one side it held the saw dust that is thrown on all the floors so that the cow crap is easier to clean off. On the other side there were sometimes the soft pillowy bales of cotton. I spent many days bouncing on those huge bales of cotton. But today there were no large bales. And I quickly remembered the object of my fascination, the calf in the trailer.

Up in the nose of the trailer was a calf unlike any I had ever seen. I had been used to our black and white Holstein animals, but this was a shiny and shimmery gold colored calf. It was a Jersey calf and I was entranced by its shiny gold coat. I remembered the minister saying something about a golden calf and Moses before he passed around the baskets of bread and trays filled with little cups of grape juice (that Mom and Dad wouldn't let me drink) many weeks before. I couldn't remember if the calf was supposed to be good or bad, but I loved this golden one just the same, the kind of love a child can hold for an animal or an inanimate object. I loved it like my pet dog at home. I loved it like my blue-for-a-boy wallpaper. I loved it like my well worn baby blankets that I surrounded myself with when I slept to keep myself safe from the things that came out from under my bed at night.

While unloading the cattle, it was my job to guard the small gap on the left side, between the trailer and the wall. I stood my guard; a good little sentry defending my post at all cost to life and limb. Really I was in no danger because the big cattle couldn't fit through the small opening. And I wasn't really needed there for the same reason. But I stood there and took my post seriously. I stood on the trailer's sideboard and shooed away the straying cattle and lightly tapped some on the rear as they passed to keep them moving. The job was basically uneventful.
All the large animals were out of the trailer. I watched through one of the air vents on the side of the trailer as Dad stepped up into the trailer and went to the front to pull the golden calf down from the nose of the trailer. Dad carried a cane up to the front with him. When the calf backed out of reach, Dad deftly hooked the calf around the neck with the curved part of the cane and pulled the fighting calf towards him so he could reach it to pull it down. Dad carefully set the calf down on the floor of the trailer and prodded it to get it to move. He applied his thumb and middle finger to opposite sides of the last quarter of the calf's spine to get the calf moving. It was stubborn, like most dumb animals, and Dad quickly got fed up, and so he easily swung the calf off the ground and threw it over his shoulder. Dad carried the calf with two feet over the front of him and two feet dangling down his back. The calf looked like a boat that had run aground onto the powerful shoulder of my father. Dad set the calf lightly on the ground behind the trailer.
Piggy, one of the men who worked at the unloading dock, smeared glue on one of the numbered, yellow ovals of paper and rudely slapped it to the back of the calf. Piggy didn't seem to notice the beauty of the animal that he had so rudely labeled. I already knew that he didn't care for little boys.

He would often yell, "move it you fat little bastard." I never understood why dad didn't say anything. I also didn't understand why he was calling me fat. He certainly couldn't hide behind a pole.

And he didn't seem to like the adults either. So considering his job, I figured he liked animals. But, no, this golden calf's beauty seemed to escape this rude, dirty man. It was just another animal to be processed. He spent no more or less time examining it. Maybe he got his nickname because he only liked pigs. Or maybe he got it because he was self-centered, just like pigs.
Dad and Piggy gathered around another man to make sure that all the numbers for the cattle had been written down correctly. They talked for a few minutes and while they talked the golden calf stood just behind the trailer. As soon as Dad had gotten out the calf, he told me to shut the rear gate on the trailer. This opened up a large gap on the right side of the trailer, which I guarded. The calf wandered over toward me. Still quite young, it walked like it didn't know what to do with each of his four legs. I realized that this calf was too young and probably would not live because it was being sold away from its mother too early. I guess we needed the money. Or maybe the mother had died. I held out my hand palm down, in a fist, with the heel of my hand toward the calf's mouth. This way the calf could suck on the heel of my hand which would keep him occupied and would keep my fingers away from his sharp teeth. When you have to feed calves you learn quickly that they are born with all their teeth and when you see old cows you also see that they don't get any replacements as they get older.

The golden calf took the bait and stood in front of me, sucking on my hand, for several minutes. I thought about the calf's beautiful coat. It shone like someone had taken the yellow stalks of wheat and woven them into a suit fit for a calf. But it was soft and conformed to my touch, not bristly and scratchy. I thought about that coat being yanked off this calf and being chopped up to make men's wallet's like the one my Dad owned that said "Made with pure calf skin." I also remembered the big buyers in the auction barn who bought for packing houses. They are the ones who sat up close and had the little cards that they scribbled on while the auction was going on. They wore straw or felt Stetsons or backwards baseball caps. Not dressed up by any means, but they definitely dressed better than the farmers in the back of the crowd. I still remember one man in particular. He was a buyer, but he was different from the slick business men sitting around him. He was an enormous man. I remember that the fat that collected at the back of his head and neck was so large that he couldn't have the adjustable plastic snaps on the back of his cap closed. They just stuck downward making a "v." These men left with semi-trailers full of sad little eyes peeking through small metal slits. Calf meat is called veal. I had never eaten any of it, but I had heard that it tastes the same as beef but it isn't as tough to chew. I then remembered my rumbling stomach.

I was thinking about this beautiful calf, skinned to make wallets and purses, while the body sits on my mother's table. Sitting there just like the steaks we eat. Maybe the skin comes off like the white paper comes off the steaks. One thing is for sure, Mom wouldn't have to send me outside to wait for the steaks to defrost so we could eat them. We could eat this calf right away. I was attempting to decide if I liked that image or not when my hand dropped to my side and I absent mindedly forgot the calf, now deprived of its pacifier had started ramming its head into my dangling hand. I ignored the calf and this only upset it further. It butted its head into my gut and I crumbled to the floor. It was startled by my apparent dive for it, so it jumped past me and ran out the door.

As soon as I could stand, I took off running for the calf while yelling "DAAAAAD!" My little legs didn't carry me very fast, so Dad quickly caught up with me as well as Piggy and the other man. The calf was much quicker than I, and it soon ran out of my sight. The men had better luck keeping up with the calf, but they still couldn't catch it. It ran right out of the drive way and down the shoulder of the road. When it passed on the other side of a small hill I lost sight of it. I ran as fast as I could, but I was soon worn out and had to walk. I finally got to the end of the driveway and I could look down the road. I saw my father and the other men standing in the middle of the closest intersection.

I started screaming, "I couldn't stop it! Did you catch it!? Did you just let it go!? Where is it? Where's the calf?" I soon discovered why they were all standing in that intersection.
The calf was sitting in the intersection. It had its legs folded at it sides like cattle do when they are sitting on the ground. I walked through the triangle of men and reached down to hit the calf on that spot on the spine. I felt responsible for this calf's escape and I immediately started to apologize again.

"Dad, Dad! I'm sorry. I'll get it back to the barn," I wouldn't have admitted it then but I was crying. I felt so guilty.

I was looking at the men and not looking at the calf. Dad finally reached his hand down and rested it on my shoulder and told me by the way he squeezed my shoulder that it was all right and that I shouldn't worry about it. I looked down and saw for the first time that the whole left side of the calf was turned inside out. The beautiful skin had been ripped in a jagged line. The rib bones were almost all broken and the calf's organs, entrails and blood were slowly flowing onto the ground. I looked around and saw a truck pulled in the ditch on the other side of the intersection with blood smeared along the running board.

I didn't want to let go of the calf, but I knew that I would have to leave. I didn't know what to do and then a thought I had earlier came into my mind. I don't know why, but I quickly reached into the gash on the side of the calf. I could still see the heart beating and the calf looked around at me and then died. I found a loose piece of meat that was along the jagged edge of the wound and I yanked it off. The men looked down at me as if they were expecting a miracle; they wanted me to make the calf get up and walk around again. They all had funny smiles on their faces like when you are squinting to see something in the distance but their faces quickly fell into expressions of disgust or shock when I slipped the piece of meat into my mouth, slowly chewed it and swallowed it. One just sat and stared at me. I still don't know if I did this because I wanted to carry a something of the calf with me. Or maybe it was just some primal instinct that hadn't been contained yet in my young mind. The men shook their heads and averted their eyes.
I used the back of my hand to wipe the blood from my mouth. The blood seemed to pour out of the meat into my mouth and it left an iron taste in my mouth like I had never had before. I was sure it was a lie that veal was easier to chew than beef because this piece of meat wouldn't let me chew it. It was like a wet red sponge squishing around in my mouth. I finally worked it down my throat. When the meat hit my stomach I remember feeling more full than I've ever felt.
Piggy and the other man grunted before starting to walk back to the auction barn to get a truck or a cart to move the dead calf from the road. I looked up at Dad and thought that he understood. He, after all, had the wallet that was printed with "pure calf skin." But he didn't. He cleared his throat and said, "Lets get back and get you something to eat." Dad and I started walking back. I looked back before we entered the driveway. The sun was setting on the horizon and the bright red gold of the sun made the calf disappear. I strained to see. I couldn't make out the soft furry animal lying peacefully in the intersection.

I looked up at Dad and the expression on his face made me want to cry. He didn't understand. I knew that the calf was back there, but I thought that maybe it had gotten up and walked away; he would be smug thinking that he had tricked us into believing him dead. But after ten more steps we met the other men going back to the intersection with a wheel barrow and I was sure the calf was dead. As we approached the buildings I could smell the frying hamburgers in the little, greasy cafeteria attached to the auction barn. And I realized that the calf hadn't taken away all my hunger.

The First Supper
The Senior/Child menu flutters as Will tries to hold it steady in his wrinkled hand. All the items seem like too much food. He doesn't have much of an appetite anymore and yet he still has an extra ring of fat around his middle; his spare tire was quickly turning into a full set with snow chains.

And he resents having to come to this restaurant to eat. If Rosie hadn't died, he would be sitting at home having a nice home cooked meal. But why think about what was lost. He huffs like a punctured tire as he focuses on the menu again.

Some kid had drawn a bright red face with a huge purple smile on the menu and another child or maybe a feeble senior citizen, "like me," Will thought, had dumped something sticky across the other side. He held onto the menu lightly with only his fingertips. There is nothing that looks good, the waitress might if he were younger and unattached.

"So, what can I get for you," chirps the young waitress as she sets his free "senior citizen" coffee in front of him. If he had been a child, she would have set a basket of crayons in front of him. He had to stop himself from asking for the crayons. They don't make him lie awake all night and they don't make him have to rush to the bathroom (or worst of all cause him not make it to the bathroom); but he was sure she wouldn't understand that. Her green and silver name tag proclaims that she is Telly M. He wonders what the "M" stands for. He might know her old or already dead grandfather.

"She is pretty," he thinks. "If only I were able..." He cuts the thought off and, even more depressed, hands the menu to her and says, "Surprise me."

He was upset with himself. At his age he was supposed to be dedicated to his lost wife and not be concerned with his loneliness.

Telly smoothes the front of her green and white striped shirt, cocks her head to the side, and asks him if he was sure he didn't care. As she talks, her light brown hair cut a little longer than shoulder length, bounces and sweeps over her shoulders, back and breasts.

His mind goes blank and he comes to with her asking him if he is okay. "Sir. Sir. Do you need help?" Her face was wrinkled now around the eyes and lips.

"No miss. Just a little tired. Bring whatever is the easiest." He thinks he recovered quite well, but as she walks away he realizes that a line of drool is coursing down his chin. He might as well have asked for the crayons. He listens to her walk away to see if he could hear her laugh at him.
Each step she took away from him sounded like nails being hammered. The light tink of her high heel followed by the hard slap of the ball of the other foot. Tink, Slap. Tink, Slap. The nail set and then driven home.

The sound brings a frightening picture to his mind. A man over a coffin hammering the lid closed. Of course, he knows that today they don't actually use nails to close the lid of a coffin. No there are little latches, a rubber seal, and a crank that pumps the air out of the box so that the body is preserved for years to come. He is sure that he would still recognize Rosie, his wife, if they opened the airtight casket. They say it is done to help preserve public health; it is supposed to keep the bodies from rotting and seeping into the ground water.

But he knows that it is simply the modern form of pyramid building and mummification. He saw a PBS special about the ancient practice of worshipping the dead. But it wasn't until Rosie died that he understood it. One night, determined to see his wife again, he had ventured out to the cemetery with a pick ax and a shovel. Standing over her grave with the pick ax raised and wobbling over his head he realized that it was pointless. He just wound up crying again. Why couldn't he have had her encased in glass and left where he could see her? In that same show he found what he wanted done with his body. For the price of a regular funeral, a company will cremate a body and send it into space. After about five years the cask holding his ashes would become a shooting star. Will is amazed by the amount of time that hunk of granite and hole in the ground takes. Since there is no one to devote that much time to his grave, maybe his brief appearance as a star will make him remembered.

He opens his eyes and realizes that Telly is back with his food. She looks concerned. He must have drifted off again.

"Are you all right sir," she asks while shaking her head no. Worry usually reserved for a dying grandparent is on her face.

"Fine, just dozed off I guess."

The air she had been refusing to exhale comes out in a relieved sigh. She looks much older when she does this. Maybe he wouldn't know her grandfather. Possibly her father.
She sets the plate in front of him and explains by saying "You looked like you could use some cheering up."

He doesn't understand until he looks down and sees a comical face peering back at him from the plate. The plate looks as though a child had been playing with his food to form a grinning face with huge white and yellow egg eyes.

Will remembered how Rosie had done these kinds of things for him and their children. One morning it was Mickey Mouse pancakes. One supper had been pot roast in a flower pot with all kinds of vegetables cut into flower designs so it looked like an elaborate flower arrangement. And the kids' favorite dessert was dirt cake; he was always amazed at how she could please them with a simple combination of Oreo cookies, cream cheese, and whipped cream topped off with a bunch of fake flowers. One April 1st they had a bunch of friends over and she prepared these two dishes and everyone got a kick out of it.

"It is our Mr. Chip Cake," Telly explained. She said she will bring him more coffee shortly as she walked away. Tink, Slap. Tink, Slap.

The pancake in front of him had chocolate chips arranged in a curve at the bottom to form a mouth. A dollop of whip cream in the middle was the nose and two sunny side up eggs stared up at him as the eyes. It even had bacon hair, or maybe eyebrows.

He ate. Each piece of bacon was cut up into exactly three pieces. An egg was deftly flipped onto the toast at the side of the plate without any of the runny yolk hitting the plate or the table. He wondered if the triangles of toasted bread were meant to represent ears. He chewed each piece of pancake, bacon and egg for several seconds. He used to count to 25 chews, but he didn't care any more about his digestion. After each lump of food was swallowed he would sip his coffee.
Just as he sets the empty cup down Telly was standing at his elbow filling the cup up again.

"Anything else for you sir," she asked, back to her professional voice.

"No, just the check," he said over the newly filled coffee cup.

Her hands fished in the pockets of the green apron and she asked, "So, do you feel better?" as she nodded to his nearly empty plate.

He looked at the indicated plate and was quite surprised. He hadn't eaten that much in a single meal for a long time. All that was left was a single eye staring up at him. He must have eaten the rest of the face but he didn't remember it. He rubbed his stomach and looked at her, "Thank you, yes I am."

She holds a pad of green guest checks in front of her, checking to make sure she has his slip. She finds the right one and she tears it off and discretely sets it on the table upside down.
As she tucks the pad back into her apron she says, "I'll take care of you when ever you're ready."

She turns and walks away again with the same tink and slap of her shoes on the floor. His eyes follow her until she disappeared into the kitchen. She looks even older now; it now seemed she was his age.

He braces himself for the difficult process of standing, but the ease with which he rises to his feet surprises him. He really does feel better, younger. He walks quickly up to the cash register and in a blink Telly is there to take his money.

"Did you have a good time, sir?" She smiles at him and it warms him.

He puzzled over this for a second because she didn't ask him if the food was good. "Yes, yes! The food was great and I had an excellent waitress."

He really couldn't believe that he was flirting with this beautiful young woman. He really does feel younger.

She hands him his change and says, "Please come back soon."

He walks out and is dazzled by the sunlight. He doesn't remember for sure now, but he has to think because he remembers entering the restaurant at night. He starts for his car; he must be sick and he needs to get home. He also doesn't feel as uplifted, as young.

Then he remembers that he didn't tip his waitress. He thinks about forgetting it, but she deserves a tip, a very good tip, after how nice she had been. So, Will pulls a five dollar bill, much more than %15, and heads back into the restaurant.

Rosie had always nagged him for not leaving an adequate tip for their waitresses. She tried to explain to him that the waitresses relied on their tips as part of their income and when eating in a restaurant it should just be accepted that you tip at least 15%.

Walking back into the restaurant seems to loosen his joints again. He is starting to wonder about this place. Will spots Telly on the other side of the restaurant helping another customer. He catches her attention with a wave and she walks over to him when she was done helping the young couple.

"Miss, I forgot to leave you a tip. You were very kind and you deserve this." He hands her the bill and she stuffs it into her apron pocket.

"Sir, you seem awfully tired and wore out. You know you can stay here if you want to. All of these people you see here have been here for hundreds of years."

He says, "No, thank you" and turns for the door again. And then he sees that it indeed is dark out. Or is dark now. He begins to wonder just how long he has been there. He feels the urge to get home again, but he stops with his hand on the handle of the door.

There is a scent in the air, one he hasn't smelled since Rosie died. It is her famous cinnamon rolls. He turns around and he thinks that he sees someone familiar walk into the dining room so he follows her. She sits down at his table, the table he ate at. He looks at this beautiful young woman and realizes that he knew her a long time ago. He rubs his eyes in disbelief. She sees him standing at the entry way and motions for him to sit down. As he enters the room he crosses in front of a mirror and he needs to rub his eyes again. He looks like a 30-year old man instead of a 70-year old one. He sits at the table with a list of questions.

"Dear you needn't have worried about me. I was just powdering my nose, waiting for you to arrive. Telly said you'd be back." She laughs as he notices that she is wearing a deep red rose that reflects a warm glow on one cheek.

"Good to see you decided to stay with us Will, sir." Telly is there with two cinnamon rolls that she places in front of them. She looks different too. Or at least she is wearing different clothes. Gone are the green and white stripes. She is now wearing a white chef's uniform with buttons making a "V" on the front of it. And her smile is even bigger and warmer.

"Let me know if you need anything," she says as she moves away from the table.

The man and woman hold hands as they feed each other little pieces of the cinnamon rolls. Will notices that by the time the rolls are gone so are the walls and floors of the restaurant; but he doesn't care.

An Incomplete Supper
Feeding him was not important. Everybody knew that. The family maintained a semicircle around the large bed that held his shriveled frame. The doctors and nurses scurried by the door with their hands held in front of them like gerbils or rats. The old man even knew, when he knew anything. His son knew; and he didn't know what to do about it. So, he wound up sitting next to him on the bed.

James was somehow balanced on the edge of the old man's death bed. James' fifty-five year old, five-foot-five, 300 pound body perched on the edge of the bed looked like a ridiculous mama bird crunching the food with a spoon like it was a round steel beak and then pouring the contents down the throat of an old helpless baby.

He started with the unsalted, unbuttered, and unpeppered mashed potatoes. James knew that the potatoes had come out of a bag like dehydrated snowflakes. James guessed that they thought this fake stuff would be good for him. He knew that they were just pretending now; it really made no difference what he ate.

If they wanted to help him by restricting his diet, they should have been at the daily breakfast table 40 years ago. The eggs and bacon he consumed on a daily basis over those years are probably what caused his blockage. At least they probably contributed to it.
But it was his damn hard headedness that made him turn down the operation ten years ago. James still fumed over this as he started giving him the peas a few at a time. He must have seen the anger in James' eyes because he tried to raise his hand and set it on James' shoulder. Of course he couldn't get it up there, but James grabbed his hand and held it for a second before he set it back down at the old man's side. He had 50 years to show compassion, and it had been put off until now; James had to bite his tongue to hold back the tears.

He was a kid again. And his father was making him cry again. This time the old man was using a different tactic. He remembered all those years ago how his father would yell at him for the most trivial things. And how nothing was ever good enough. How life with father was more like life with a drill instructor.

James wanted this all to be over. He cut the Salisbury steak into little pieces as he talked to his father, "Do you remember how Mom used to make these things for us and you would always grumble that it shouldn't be called a steak if it has been ground up?"

James continued to set small pieces of the meat on the old man's tongue, occasionally offering the water to him.

"I remember one time you got so upset about 'hamburger acting like it was a steak' that you grabbed a package of what you thought to be steak out of the freezer and threw it in a pan still in the package saying, 'still wrapped in the paper this would be a better steak than what you're feeding me.'"

"Water."

James barely heard the whisper that came out of one side of the old man's mouth. Had he said it to stop the painful memories? Or did he really need the water? James let the old man take a sip of water and wiped low-sodium gravy from the bristly, wrinkled chin. He should have had a shave, but at this point that could more easily be left for other people and a later time.
James set the glass back on the table. When the old man came to the hospital for the heart attack he quickly developed a list of other ailments, including a stroke that left the left side of his body immobile.

It was difficult to look at the once immovable mountain of a man that had been reduced to a bag of bones that needed tubes stuck into it to keep the body inflated. James remembered when he was eight he saved cereal box tops for four months to get enough to earn an official Red Ryder BB Gun from Post Cereal Company. The day after it arrived in the mail he went out into the woods and practiced by shooting pine cones off the tall white pines. When he got back to the house his dad asked where the gun was. James handed it to him. And with a quick flex of the shoulders and swinging of the arms the gun had been crumpled on the sidewalk like an empty can. And without a trace of anger in his voice but with rage busting veins all over his face he asked, "Why didn't you come when I called you?"

Finally it was time for dessert. "Here Dad, an old hospital specialty, green J-ELLO. Well, it is probably just generic gelatin," James said as he started to cut one of the green cubes with the spoon.

With the green cube just inches from his face, the old man was drawn back to his mother's table. Gelatin for dessert was a truly special occasion because it took his mother so much effort to prepare. She had to add wood to the wood-fired stove several times to get the water boiled and all the ingredients mixed. It also took the purchase of extra ice for the ice box because the cooling liquid would radiate a great deal of heat before it gelled. Instead of cake, green gelatin is what he asked for at his birthday and his mother made it for him until he turned 20. She died of pneumonia that year. He wanted to weep for this loss but he was a prisoner in his own body. All he could do is sit there and look up at James and cry.

James was looking down at him with concern. He nervously glanced from his father's tear streaked, drooping face to the stand that held the heart monitor. The regular beep, beep, beep had been replaced by a series of irregular ones. Finally the monitor sat making one long whine.
The old man looked up and couldn't understand why James didn't give him the gelatin. He wanted it badly. He could just see the door and he watched as all his family and friends walked out. Some of them took one last look but most just shuffled out. James picked up his hand and held it for a few seconds and then he said, "I love you Dad."

James knew that saying it didn't make it so. But he felt it was the last obligation he had to the old man. James still remembers the morning three years before when his father drove into the yard and had ranted and raved over a loan he had made to James. The old man became so engrossed in his rage that he listed James' failures throughout the years.

"You can't even run a farm! You didn't learn anything from me! You've always been a problem and I don't know why it wasn't you instead of your brother who took his life. You married into the wrong family. You haven't raised your kids right. Do something right for once and pay back this loan," He hopped back in his car and threw up gravel as he drove off.

James had stood there stunned and he didn't know what to do with the thoughts in his head. He knew he had already paid back the $12,000 loan his father was so upset about. He didn't deserve this. If anyone had been standing by him, it would have been easy to see his spirit shrink as his soul cooled. He no longer had a father. That night he had written out a check for $12,000 and the next day he mailed it. It was less than a mile to his parent's home but he wouldn't go there again.

And now James thought that it was over. The nurse entered the room as James walked out. She double checked the truth about what the monitor was saying by lightly touching the old man's wrist. She shut his eyes and pulled a sheet over his head before leaving the room to get a doctor who could certify the old man's death.

Lee Family BBQ Sauce
People often asked him what he thought about as the bull spun around trying to throw him to the ground so it could grind him into the dirt floor of the arena. He always laughed and said that he thought about praying to God to hold him onto the bull but he never got around to actually praying. Honestly, he didn't really remember what he thought while the bull was bucking and bouncing but he knew that he was putting his instincts, fueled by his many years of experience, in charge of keeping him in the saddle. In that way he could fuse with the bull and become a part of it. Rather than fighting the bull with his conscious he lets the bull's will take him over. This must have worked for him because he was the three time Texas state bull riding champion. And he is ready to make it four in a row.

Standing outside the holding pen he made himself ready. He wasn't happy when he heard that this year's championship was being held at the state fair. He hated riding under the open sky. It was a distraction for him. But he made himself focus as he climbed the fence and swung himself over onto the bull. The attendants helped him set the rope and wrap it around his gloved hand as he silently sung the song that he sung before every ride to calm himself. "I am a poor wayfaring stranger / traveling through this world alone..."

He wrapped the rope around his gloved hand to the right tightness, locked in his strong grip, and a deep followed a deep breath with the tipping of his hat. In an instant he was in the middle of the ring and no more that half a second had gone by when he knew that he would have a great ride. He knew because he felt that his body was one with the bull. His rational mind, his intellect, floated above his body and the bull (affectionately named Nutcracker) imposed his will on M. T.
The gun shot at the eight second mark didn't immediately knock him off the bull, but it did bring him back into his body. His feeble conscious was only able to keep him on the bull for another second. He had found it to be a true statement that the rider never wants to get off the bull. But the bull wants nothing more than to be rid of him. He opened his hand, the clamp that had kept his body tied to the bull, and flew off. He landed gracelessly in the sand like a rag doll tossed around by a child in the middle of a temper tantrum.

A mere second after he hits the sand he solidified and became a man again. On his feet he ran wildly for the fence, slowing only to scoop up his hat on the way. Once in safety he didn't need to look over his shoulder to know that he won. The cheer from the crowd told him all he needed to know. M. T. Jones had won his fourth state bull riding championship. As he waved to the crowd he saw a woman at the railing, not cheering. She had long brunette hair, a wide smile and she glowed with a confidence that was rare because it was genuine. He felt something he never thought he would feel.
* * * * * * * * * *
Any fool can grill a rack of ribs. The real test of a rib cook is the sauce. And the Bar B Que sauce recipe that Lori's mother handed down to her helped produce the undisputed best ribs at the state fair for the two years she had entered. Her mother and her grandmother used the same recipe to hold the title of BBQ champ for over 40 years. Ruth was sure that this year would be no different.

The recipe was so successful that Ruth considered many times doing what her mother only talked about, starting a company to distribute The Lee Family's Longhorn BBQ sauce. She wasn't sure she could do it either. But it was something for her to hold onto.
She had to hurry over to the Bar B Que pavilion in order to get everything ready for that afternoon's judging. She started her gas grill with a lighter and when it got warmed up she set several racks of ribs on the grill. She took the ribs from a bowl that held a diluted mixture of her family's sauce and Coke; they had been marinating over night. She held back one rack of ribs so she could place it on the grill just as the judge got there. All she has to do was brush on the sauce and turn the ribs every few minutes for 45 minutes or so.

Her only concern that year was the judge. That was the first year the winner of the bull riding was awarded the honor of judging the cook-off. She had watched the bull riding and the winner didn't seem to be the kind to appreciate good cooking. A picture of him had stuck in her mind. After he had completed an absolutely flawless ride, even she didn't need to look at the board to know he received a perfect score, he was flung free of the bull and for a moment he was upside down.

For some reason that picture of him upside down in the air was stuck in her head. His hat had just fallen off and was still in the air. She could see the hat ring in the light brown hair that screamed to have a hand run through it. The eyes were green and confident. And God had touched his chin to put a dimple there. And the body, although lanky, was obviously muscular. And then he flipped the rest of the way over and crumpled to the ground. When he got up, and scooped up his hat she could see the wide, satisfied smile on his face. She wanted to see that smile again, up close. With that thought she looked up to see him approaching her table. She had watched him as he tasted the food at the other tables and she could tell that he hadn't been impressed by any of the other's. Maybe he was just an impossible man; or is it supposed to be that all men are impossible.

"And this is Ms. Lee, Mr. Jones," Margaret, the contest coordinator, said as she approached the table with M. T. "Her family has competed for three generations."

Ruth was glad Margaret left off the fact that her family had won for the last 42 years. She didn't want to bias the judge for or against her. Ruth gave him a firm hand shake as she said, "Have a seat right here Mr. Jones," as she gestured toward the place setting that was waiting for him.
She noticed as he was walking around testing the others' ribs that Mr. Jones was left handed. So she had a glass of water on the left hand side of the plate. She also had reversed the normal placement of the fork to accommodate him. On the plate in front of him was a small bowl covered with a towel. He set the towel aside as he washed his hands in the lukewarm water. When he picked up the towel to wipe his hands, Ruth snatched away the water bowl and set a smaller plate on the bigger plate. On this smaller plate were the ribs. Margaret asked Ruth to leave while the ribs were being evaluated. Ruth knew the procedure well. She gave M. T. more than a suggestive smile as she turned to walk away. All she could think about was how her ribs might be evaluated in the five categories (aroma, smokiness, spice, sweetness, overall taste, tenderness) by this judge. She did amuse herself by evaluating his ribs, the ones she could remember in the upside down image of him, on the same five categories.
* * * * * * * * * *
M. T. wasn't crazy about judging the rib contest. But what was he to do? As soon as he had the bull riding trophy in his hand, Margaret had approached him and fluttered around him chirping about the judging and how much fun it would be. She followed him around as he packed up his gear and stowed it in his truck. She probably would have gone into the shower room with him if he hadn't pointed out that she couldn't help him in there. Margaret was a very high energy person and she was starting to annoy him; he figured he better get the judging over as quick as he could. The first four women who fed him ribs were Texas air heads. That is a type of women he has found only in Texas; like the common air head only bigger. They have a man, they have a kitchen, they have a pastor in the church and they rarely need to use the space between their ears.

The fourth woman was different. She was the one he had seen after his ride. She had her space just as clean and tidy as the others, more really. And finding out that she came from a long line of contestants almost tricked him into thinking her another air head. And after he had looked at her face closely he recognized something, a glow to the green eyes that he hadn't seen in anyone but his mother; this must have been part of the confidence that had drawn his attention to her in the first place. This Ruth Lee had grand thoughts and great ambitions. He knew this because that was what gave his mother that look.

After Julie's introduction, M. T. said, "Nice to meet you miss. Good luck."

He took his designated seat and Ruth guided him to wash his hands and wipe them dry on the provided towel. She set the plate of ribs in front of him along with a glass of ice water, another bowl of warm water and another towel. As she walked off she turned and smiled at him in a way that wasn't unfamiliar; but what was unfamiliar was that he liked it. M. T. became sure that he had never met such a completely thoughtful and together woman. It only took one bite of the ribs to know that she deserved to win. The only area he didn't give a perfect five to was tenderness. But the sauce was so good it could be sold as a drink. And the grilled ribs that had been slathered in the stuff could have come from a giant rat and they still would have been good. With the other women he had taken a respectful sample of one or two ribs off the plate. He sat at Lori's table and ate them all down. This meant he would see Ruth again when he handed her the trophy at the barn dance that night. He barely tasted the rest of the competitors' ribs. There wasn't a need, and he was quite full.
* * * * * * * * * *
The barn dance and square dance competition took place not in a barn but in the main exhibition hall on the fair grounds. The booths from the satellite companies, spa retailers, water filtration companies, 4-H clubs, and religious extremist groups had been dismantled and now the large open floor was framed by bales of dusty yellow straw. Finely ground saw dust had been scattered over the floor and everything was ready for the dancers.

M. T. came after the square dance competition was over; he wasn't going to come at all. But he couldn't resist the chance to see Ruth again. A group from Waco had won the contest and they were on stage receiving their trophy and prize money. These people looked ridiculous in their matching red and white plaid outfits. It looked like all of their clothes had been cut from old table clothes. He could kind of understand doing that to a table; a distracting pattern can make you forget that the food is horrible. But why would people wear such things?

He crossed the threshold of the door and Margaret was upon him. Ever the busybody she herded him near the stage to have him get ready to announce the rib cook off winner. She insisted that he say a little something. He couldn't just get away with announcing the winner. Trophy and prize money in hand he climbed up on stage at the request of the master of ceremonies who doubled as the band leader. People who had seen his now famous ride to win the bull riding contest cheered and it infected those who hadn't seen it.

The microphone was in a stand that was a little low so he stooped toward it and said, "I thank all of you for that warm reception. And now it is time for me to announce this year's Bar B Que winner. Continuing, from what I've been told is a long family tradition, this year's winner is Ruth Lee."
* * * * * * * * * *
As she approached the stage the crowd cheered while the other competitors teased and jeered Ruth in a friendly way. They all knew that as long as she competed the real contest was to see who would come in second and third. But if Ruth had to testify she would have had to admit that she wasn't as sure that year.

She reached the stage and as M. T. handed her the trophy he leaned over, put his hand on her shoulder and whispered in her ear, "Meet me by the dessert table."

She flushed a little but she hid it as best she could. She approached the microphone and with a humble wave she thanked the crowd and the other competitors. And then she fled the stage. She hated being the center of attention. If you are in the center, you have to be aware of what is coming at you from all sides.

Ruth felt better as she stepped off the stage and casually made her way toward the dessert table. She needed to find out what he had to say (or maybe what he wanted to do). She tried to not let herself hope. He was sitting there with a piece of pecan pie on a napkin.

As she approached, he handed her one as well and said, "For the best cook at the fair."
Oh, how to respond. "Thank you." And she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

"Well, that was nice, I guess, but I really just wanted to congratulate you on your sauce."
He took a bite of pie and a sip of coffee, unfazed and unruffled. Uncaring? She wondered.
She was now a little embarrassed as he offered her a seat. She took it, although her first reaction was to run away and cry over making herself a fool. When would she learn to read men. Or was he playing with her?

"So, do you have any plans to try and sell your blue ribbon sauce recipe?" he asked, not knowing what he was doing or why.

She, now defensive, responded, "No, no if it were to be bottled and sold it would have to be my company. But it takes a lot of money to start a company." She didn't want to say that she had been saving for about 10 years now in order to get that money.

"I know what you mean. I've been saving for years and it seems like I have nothing to show for it." She could tell that he really did know.

"So, what are you saving up for?"

"A home, a wedding, maybe some kids."

Respectfully she didn't pursue the issue. It did kind of cool her off though. "Well, Mr. Jones, bull rider phenom, would you care for a friendly dance?"

When he agreed, he didn't think that this woman could seduce him. He had been pretty sure that no woman could seduce him. But he truly was seduced. He didn't know why. It must have been the uncommon confidence that was familiar and appealing that drew him in. They danced until the band packed up their last instrument. The dancing led to kissing, the kissing led to fondling and this led them to her RV. The mechanics of intercourse weren't difficult, just unfamiliar to him. But he quickly became a master. He remembered the sensation of his intellect floating above the bed and her will becoming his. And he did get thrown a couple times.
* * * * * * * * * *
In the morning M.T. had still been quite satisfied by what had happened between he and Ruth. He lay in bed and looked at the woman asleep next to him and he couldn't decide what to do. He had been sure for years that he was gay. He had planned to take a trip with Harry to Vermont to get married. Maybe they would even adopt children.

Now, he didn't know what he wanted anymore. He loved Harry very much, sex with Harry was very satisfying-felt very right, but he could sense a strong natural connection between himself and Ruth. He had made love to a woman before. He had dated women for all of his teenage years. He had even thought he loved a woman before. But it wasn't this; it wasn't true. He didn't even know that men could love one another that way. When he got a little older he learned about such things, but it took meeting Harry for him to admit it.

He clearly saw two paths in front of him. He could stay with Ruth, marry her, have kids, maybe start a family business selling her sauce. Or, he could be with Harry.

Naked, M. T. got up and checked in the cupboards and found some coffee. When it was ready he looked in the refrigerator for some milk and he saw a plate of ribs. He picked one up and took a bite out of it. These ribs were good even cold. He set the plate on the table next to his coffee and he ate all of them while he drank his coffee and watched Ruth sleep.

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