09 September 2009

How to Strain a Relationship in One Dinner Appointment

When I started writing again I opined that I really missed it – and I do. My friend John pointed out that many of us miss it and that it is making the time that is the challenge. Amen, brother, amen.

Today I’m jumping from my time in the military to my time as a missionary. The subject of today’s post: J Breedlove Wilson. Subtitled – how to annoy someone with whom you have to spend 24 hours a day in one easy dinner appointment.

Background: Jaren and I had similar (if bizarrely different) experience in that we both served a good chunk of our missions in Eastern Europe and we both ended up in Chicago, Illinois after medical issues. I’m not going to share Jaren’s story here – that would be a blog post of its own and he should be the one to write it.

Our common background was beneficial in that we were working in the Polish community in Chicago and Eastern Europeans have a different way of looking at things. Likely it would be more accurate to say that Americans have a different way of looking at things as we are the new kids on the block, as it were. Regardless of wording, there is an adjustment that all missionaries from the United States have to experience in order to work well with those from Eastern Europe.

One of those adjustments revolves around the food. First of all, let me clarify: I love Polish food. I wish that I had access to a Polish restaurant. I’d be there at least once a week, if not more. Alternately, I wish I had the time to spend preparing the food myself. There are, however, certain dishes that more seasoned missionaries used to scare their newer brethren. There were two that concerned me heading to Poland: flaczki and galaretka. One of the few consolations to my having to leave Poland early was that I never had to experience either.

Then I went to Chicago. While there I got to experience both. Served by the same family. On separate occasions. With Jaren. I hasten to say that my experience with flaczki was wonderful. Flaczki are (it is a plural noun) better known in America as either menudo (not the singing group – notice the lower case “M”) or as tripe soup. Both Jaren and I enjoyed that experience.

Galaretka, however, is a different story. For my American friends, galaretka is jello. Meat jello. The preparation by the family who served it to us consisted of taking everything that was left over after a chicken dinner, putting it in a pot, and boiling it until the bones released the substance that causes gelatin to gel. They put it in a pan and the pan was sent to the refrigerator. My understanding is that this is a delicacy. I also understand that most people skim the fat of the top of the gelling product. Not this family.

Before I go on, I need to point out that A) this family was struggling to make ends meet and that feeding the missionaries was a great sacrifice for them and B) We totally understood this and were grateful for their sacrifice. I point this out because the (what I hope to be) humor to come should not be construed to be at their expense. At Jaren’s, absolutely, but not that sweet family’s.

When we arrived, the table was set for just the two of us. There were two small glasses of flavored water, a plate with two pieces of wonderful Polish bread - cut in half, plates, silverware, and salt and pepper. After seating us, the wife proceeded to bring out the galaretka. I should also point out that, while Jaren served in Eastern Europe, he didn’t serve in Poland. Apparently there are some significant food differences because he wasn’t even remotely prepared for the meal. Oh, and I wasn’t aware of this.

As the meal was being served I received a 3.5” x 3.5” cube of galaretka. Then Jaren got his cube . . . and an additional ½ cube just for good measure. Our approach to eating was obviously different. I cut up my cube into bite sized pieces and spread them around my plate. Jaren slowly cut off individual pieces and ate them as he cut them.

My approach offered another benefit. The family had a 2 year old son who quickly saw his opportunity and started stealing pieces off my plate. The parents scolded him for his actions but I (very selflessly, of course) said that it wasn’t a problem. I was a missionary and it was part of our calling to share with others. I gladly shared with the young-un.

At this point I have to say (and apologies to my Polish friends) galaretka – or at least that which I at that evening – is easily one of the foulest things I have ever eaten. My approach was to take a bite then take a bite of the bread or a sip of the flavored water. As I was about half way done I had finished the 2 half slices of bread and consumed most of my flavored water. Jaren hadn’t touched his. I assumed that, with his experience in Eastern Europe, he was enjoying the meal. He hadn’t touched the bread and hadn’t even sampled his water.

So I started eating another piece of bread. That got me through another quarter of my food. Jaren still hadn’t touched his bread. So I took the last piece. I was sure that Jaren was enjoying his dinner because he hadn’t spread it around his plate like every novice missionary learns to do when he doesn’t like the food that has been offered. This meant that the son was only stealing food from my plate.

In the end, I ended up eating maybe 2/3 of the food I had originally been offered, all the bread, and all the flavored water in my glass. Jaren had more than one and a half times the amount of galaretka, no bread, and only drank his water when he was done. He made me proud to be his companion.

We left a spiritual message and left for home. Almost immediately upon reaching the street, Jaren assaulted me verbally. How in (expletive deleted) could I eat all the bread? Oooo, was he mad. Apparently he had been waiting until the end of the meal to use the bread and water to cleanse his palate. And thanks to me, there was no palate cleanser. I don’t know that he’s forgiven me to this very day. It was either that, or stealing his girlfriend. I’m not sure which.


Trav said...

Just so everyone is clear, I didn't steal Jaren's girlfriend. Unfortunately that story is for another post. Stay tuned.

John said...

At least you didn't have to eat iguana.

Trav said...

Oh, I'd eat Iguana before I'd eat galaretka again.

J Breedlove said...

You didn't strain our relationship with that dinner appointment--I hated you long before that.

J Breedlove said...

I kid, I keed! Seriously, I honestly don't remember this ever happening. I think this is just the product of your over active imagination. Who were these people? For that matter, who are you? Was this the couple, who when waiting for the bus to come, called out to their child, Simonek, Autobus?