Dear Reader, I just attended the social bush event of the Winter Season.
My invitation came personally from Lady A. Darden, one of the hostesses of the elite event. The occasion was, in fact, so elite that I was the only one invited.
Twelve-year-old A. Darden has been on an extended visit at the next floathouse over from mine (my parents' house) and she had the inspired idea of having my mom put on a "Bush Tea Party." This was probably a result of her getting hooked on one of my mom's favorite shows, "Downton Abbey," which they've been binge watching together; that is, when A. isn't watching "Gilligan's Island."
On the menu was pumpkin pie with whipped cream, tiny cheese sandwiches--the crusts fastidiously removed--green olives, chocolate chip cookies delicately removed from the mass packaging bag they came in, banana slices, carrot sticks, and a variety of teas to choose from.
Here are some juicy snippets of conversation from this exclusive social gathering:
"So, where do you stand, Lady Darden, on the subject of keeping the village hospital or moving the patients to a larger city hospital?" my mom asked as she sipped her tea, pinky finger elegantly elevated. Apparently that was where they were at in their binge-watching of Downton Abbey.
"They need to keep the village hospital," A. said, decisively slicing into her pumpkin pie. "It's closer, they need a small hospital in the village, and the doctors know the people."
"It appears that you side with the Dowager," my mom noted.
My dad wandered by on his way out the front door. "And here," I said (as official tea party chronicler), "we have an exile from the Bush Tea Party, a veritable barbarian. We should ask him to join us. Oh. He's giving me a death glare, so perhaps not."
"It's a Tea Party Death Glare," he corrected, and carried on about his barbarous way.
From there we discussed the sad news that Jerry Van Dyke had died. "He turned down a starring role in Gilligan's Island," I said, knowing that Lady Darden would find this Important News. We tried to figure out which role he would have played and finally decided that because he'd been typecast early on as not overly bright, or at least naive, it would have been Gilligan himself.
"Gilligan," Lady Darden explained dryly, "isn't as smart as he thinks he is."
Her other favorite show is "I Love Lucy" and she was excited that the ladies of Downton Abbey were going to be visiting New York City where Lucy lived. "They better be prepared," she said darkly, having no illusions about the kind of manic madness that Lucy managed to inject into every occasion.
My mom and I had to break it to her that the ladies lived in different eras. We tried to figure out the time difference between Lucy and the Downtonians as we finished off the tea. A little math in the proceedings was fitting since this was the time of day when I'd agreed to tutor A. in her math homework. I'd even suggested that we make it a "Math Tea Party." I received a death glare in return. (They're fairly common in the long dark winter days of the Alaskan bush.)
As we were discoursing in this vein, Lady A. Darden managed to sneakily separate the cheese from the sandwiches, leaving the little squares of bread still tooth-picked together and apparently unmolested to the unsuspicious, benign eye.
Apropos of nothing whatsoever, Lady Darden volunteered that if she ever wrote a book it would be titled: The Mystery of Who Stole the Cheese.
Alas, the tea party came to its conclusion, as all good things must. But it's an occasion that will be talked about in local gatherings to brighten the many dark winter days still to come.
Although Southeast Alaska is famous for being temperate, and even in winter we don't get the kind of snow and cold common to the Far North made famous by Jack London and others, the past couple of weeks have had a decidedly Arctic attitude. Today is the first day since the cold snap set in that I've been able to get the indoor temperature above 45 degrees Fahrenheit and haven't seen my breath inside my house.
The cold spell has been particularly tough on my mom who has circulation issues that make her extremities especially sensitive to the cold. My dad came up with the idea of heating a stone on the stove for her to rest her feet on. Julian, the fourteen-year-old boy staying with his sister and mother in Meyers Chuck, came out to spend a week with us. He accompanied me to the nearby beach where large, flat stones were common. In previous years my dad had harvested such rocks to build my grandmother's hearth.
Julian and I clambered over the beach in the chilly air. A rumble sounded in the distance and Julian asked what it was. "The ferry," I said, pointing toward Prince of Wales Island where one of Alaska's state ferries steamed down the strait toward Ketchikan.
"But it's so far away," he said, squinting to make it out. "How can we hear it so loudly?"
"Sound carries really well over the water. The tide's coming in so we better find some flat rocks before we get cut off from the houses."
He pounced. "I found one!" He held it triumphantly over his head.
In a few minutes we found three different rocks of varying shapes, each about an inch and half thick. My mom called on the handheld VHF radio just then, saying that Julian's breakfast was ready and about to get cold. I told her our mission was accomplished and we were on our way back.
We carried the heavy rocks through the woods, across the beach and into the house. My dad chose the largest and put the other two aside. I decided that it was a good idea since I'd been having a hard time keeping my feet warm, especially after wearing my boots outside doing firewood and other chores, and took one of the smaller ones home.
It worked perfectly for my mom and she was happy to finally have warm feet again, though she had to be careful not to let the rock get too hot. Once it began to burn the soles of her slippers. It didn't work so well for me. Granted, the first time I used it I definitely luxuriated in having warm feet again. But the moment I got up to do something I returned to find that my stone had been stolen!
Katya had it staked out. She was lying on it and stared up at me with slitted eyes, her tail twitching just daring me to do something about it.
I could take a hint. I wrapped it in blankets and stuck it in her bed and she rewarded me with some head butts and loud purrs that sounded louder than the ferry had. I tucked her hotwater bottle in with her, too, and it's been a rare day when I've seen her come out from under the blankets. When she goes out at night it isn't for very long and when she comes back in she gives me filthy looks and puts her back to me, letting me know just how much she doesn't appreciate the freezing weather.
But as long as I keep her hotwater bottle filled and keep changing out the hot rocks in her bed, I think she'll forgive me. Fortunately, things have warmed up, but I'll keep the rocks on the stove just to be safe.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)