The War Department and I were camping in the trailer down in Galveston last week when I stumbled out of bed and into the kitchen to turn on the coffee pot. It was chilly and damp outside, and the windows streamed with outside moisture.
Instead of turning on the furnace, I did what many safety experts advise against. I lit a burner on the propane stove to take out the chill. It didn’t take but a minute to start warming the small space.
Before leaving the house, I picked the last of the tomatoes and peppers from the garden. They were in a bowl on the counter and when I passed on the way to the coffee for a second time, the combination of sights and smells reminded me of winter mornings in my maternal grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen in Chicota, Texas.
They say there’s no time machine in existence, but there is, though it doesn’t operate like the devices in the movies. It’s natural, and involves the senses. The scent of propane, ripening fresh vegetables, the moist interior air, and the outside cold front transported me back in time.
Then the weirdness happened. I turned on the radio set on an oldies station, and the Beatles came on singing “Ticket to Ride.” There I was in 1965, in that farmhouse kitchen.
Kitchens are the heart of the home, no matter if it’s in a little travel trailer or a huge house, or a two-bedroom frame farmhouse. That’s where we gather to eat and share stories and time together. I honestly wish kitchens came with a blocking mechanism for the devices that are soaking up so much of our lives.
That would make them the best place on earth.
Can you imagine a time when you were young and sitting at your mother or grandmother’s table and you plunked a television down and turned it on? That little idea would have disappeared as fast as an annoying fly under a swatter.
When the coffee was ready that morning in Galveston, I sat with the War Department at our little booth. We talked…
…that’s something people once did to communicate. Instead of texting or surfing social media and the web as they sat together at a table, folks voiced their thoughts…
…about the beach we’d walked on the day before, and the nearby marshes and the fishing for whatever would take the bait out there in the gulf. From there, the conversation wandered, exactly like it did when all our relatives were gathered around the table in that little Northeast Texas farmhouse.
The War Department scrambled some eggs, mixed in the bell peppers and late onions from the garden, and added in a little cream. The smell, mixed with a third cup of coffee, took me back again, this time to a café I write about in the Red River books.
In that series, I call it Frenchie’s café, but in reality, it was a narrow little eatery just north of the Lamar County courthouse that was operated by a great-aunt. Called Mallie’s, it always smelled of frying onions, bacon, hamburgers and fresh-brewed coffee. I’ve stepped into similar hole-in-the-wall cafes and been transported back to the 1960s.
Watching moisture stream down the trailer’s windows, the War Department and I ate and reminisced about days gone by, but not in a morose way. Though we’ve been together for thirty years, there are still little things we don’t know about each other.
“When I was a kid, mornings like this always started out with a hot breakfast, and then either the Old Man and I would go squirrel hunting, or Uncle would come by with the dogs and we’d go shoot a limit of quail.”
“Did you do anything other than hunt?”
I thought back.
“Well, we hung out up at the hay barn or went fishing in the pool.”
“But you’d have rather hunted.”
“I was a boy, hanging with men who loved the outdoors. Yep, Havilah Babcock always said his health was better in November.”
“You’ve never mentioned him. Was he an uncle?”
“Nope. A great author who wrote about the outdoors. I didn’t know what that meant when I was a kid, but now that I can see seventy years of age up there on the horizon, I understand.”
She took a tiny sip of coffee.
“What are we gonna do today?”
“How about we take another walk on the beach, hit an antique store or two…”
“Don’t know why we’d do that. I’m sitting across from an antique right now.”
“Funny. A million comedians out of work and you’re cracking bad jokes. Anyway, I feel there’s something out there I need, like maybe a fishing print for the wall, or maybe something I haven’t even thought about, then we can eat some seafood somewhere.”
That’s when she took control.
“How about we buy some shrimp and fish…”
“We can catch something.”
“We’ll buy some fish from one of those little seafood shacks down on the pier and come back here and cook it ourselves. It’s cheaper, and a guarantee we’ll have fish, and I can mix up a new cocktail sauce I’ve been wanting to try.”
I glanced around the little trailer’s kitchen. We were perfectly positioned to see the sunset through the open door and the smell of cooking as the light disappeared appealed to me.
“That sounds like a great deal. Then tomorrow, we’ll pull the trailer to Bandera and find us a nice place in the hill country for a few more days. I saw the forecast, and it’s supposed to be drizzly. It’ll be a perfect day, inside without no requirements.”
“You have something else in mind.”
“Yep. More time to sit and talk, and get away from devices for a little while more.”
And to smell those last tomatoes ripen in the bowl, to drink coffee while rain drips off the trailer, and to hear it rattle on the roof as we settle deeper under the quilts my grandmother sewed.
A little Thanksgiving present for the two of us.