“She slapped me in front of Junior,” Allison said, when I brought up our hired hands on the farm. It was a blustery Saturday back in May, and I had driven the six hours to Gettysburg the day before. It was now mid-morning, and I was in the Blue Parrot Bistro, Allison and Holly’s restaurant, watching Allison in the kitchen doing her prep work, getting ready for a Saturday night full of reservations.
The Blue Parrot kitchen had very little room for standing and conversing, yet any number of people could be found back there watching Allison and her staff – friends, family, salesmen, employees during their off hours, waitresses waiting for customers in the dining room, all talking about the events at hand, the issues in their lives.
I was standing with my back to a large metal sink in front of the main window half way down the room. What seemed like hundreds of pots and pans had been thrown into the sink, ostensibly to soak, but, perhaps, simply to be avoided. A long stainless steel table used for prep work was immediately in front of me and my standing there was blocking that side of the aisle.
Allison was standing on the other side of the table slicing hundreds of red peppers with a large, steel carving knife and cupping the slivers into a well-used metal bowl. Behind her were the warming tables for picking up completed dishes and behind that a steam table, with lids and sauces and thin strands of steam rising into the air. Beyond the steam table was the industrial heart of Allison’s kitchen – two ovens and a huge black iron stove with odd shaped pots haphazardly arrayed across the many burners.
With Allison firmly in place at her cutting board, it was clear I had to move quickly every time a waiter or cook came into the area, sliding over to the back door near the sink, or movng back to the shelves along the far wall. Even at the door or against the wall, you had to remain nimble to stay out of the way. It was like a fluid dance of movement, with the kitchen’s many characters spiraling in different directions, yet, with incredible grace throughout, and by entering the room you automatically agreed to participate in the ballet continuously unfolding throughout the day.
“Mother slapped you?” I asked leaning lightly against the sink, aware of everyone in the room. This was a heck of a place to have this conversation.
Allison’s hands were holding the tiny peppers while slicing them with the sharp knife. I noticed her fingers, moving quickly with assured dexterity, so much thinner than mine, more wrinkled, and covered with small scars and burns from forty years of cooking in the restaurant.
“Yep,” Allison responded, barely looking up, wired blonde hair exploding in all directions across her head, wearing faded blue jeans and a light sweater with an old white apron.
“Don’t you remember,” she asked me, “our first two hired hands were Harvey and Junior. They lived in the mobile home near the barn. Junior was hired after Harvey – don’t you remember?” When she looked up at me, I nodded like I did, but I was too young at the time; I didn’t remember any of this.
“Junior was much younger and better looking than Harvey, and Mother acted sweeter around him than with old Harvey,” she said, laughing, getting into her story.
“For some reason Mother took me with her down to the barn to talk to Junior. After a while, I wanted to tell her something – I don’t remember what – but she wouldn’t let me interrupt. She told me to be quiet. I said something like, ‘But he’s only a hired hand!’ – and just like that,” Allison paused, waving her knife in a pirouette across the peppers, “Mother slapped me!”
Allison’s eyes were on fire. “She told me to apologize, but I was in a state of shock. I was a little girl, and she hit me across my face, right in front of Junior!”
“What did you do?”
“What do you think? I burst into tears as much from embarrassment as from the sting. Can you believe it?” Allison flashed her knife, pointing it at me like I had something to do with it.
“Mother never apologized to me either. She finished talking to Junior, and we went back up to the house.”
Categories: My Family Story