April 2000 – Ava, Missouri
Sage comes back from working on the computer at the house with a message. “Mal called. He wants to know if you can come down and help him with his computer.” I finish the dishes, and head back to the house to call Mal back. He’s at his house, just a 10 minute walk down off the hill we live on. I head down to see him. It’s still early and a bit misty outside. In the field next to the land we live on, a couple of cows are grazing and moo at me as I walk by.
Mal, a wiry 60-something man with glasses and wearing plaid meets me out in the yard. His blue tick hound barks to warn me away until Mal tells him it’s OK. He invites me inside and goes in to the kitchen to fetch me a coffee. As I wait, I notice a shotgun leaning up against the door frame near the front door. I clearly am not living in Pennsylvania anymore.
He comes back in with two coffees and we sit and chat for a bit. Though Mal looks like the average conservative local man, a few minutes of conversation makes it clear he’s not. He’s really unhappy with the Republican congress and really hopes we get another Democrat in this year’s presidential election. We commiserate about the political bent of most people in the area: very socially and politically conservative. For some here, the Republican party leans a bit too far to the left.
After we finish our coffee he tells me his troubles. He got a new printer at Wal Mart and though he plugged it in, it won’t work at all. I power up his computer, check it out and see that it just needs the printer driver installed. I put in the CD that was still in the printer box, print a test page and Mal’s thrilled.
“What do I owe you?”
“Mal, we spent more time talking about Al Gore’s presidential prospects than I did fixing your computer. It’s no charge.”
Mal is unwilling to accept this and goes back in to the kitchen.
“I just caught and filleted this catfish this morning. Take this.” he says and hands me a bag with about two pounds of fresh-caught fish.
“You know what I like to do? I like to crush-up Cheez-its crackers and bread the fish with that. It’s delicious!” he says as I walk out the door.
I thank him and head back up the hill. Fortunately it’s almost lunch time. Without a refrigerator to keep the fish in, we will be eating it right away. For maximum flavour, I light a hickory fire outside and get it going good and hot until I have a bed of coals. I take a few potatoes, wrap them in foil and bury them in the coals and then, once that’s done, I lay two identical big logs parallel on top of the fire to rest the cast iron skillet on. As the skillet heats, I pour some cornmeal in a bowl, add some African bird pepper powder to make it spicy and bread the fillets.
The fish and potatoes, both smelling and tasting a bit of hickory smoke, are one of the most delicious meals we have eaten so far at the yurt. Daegan enjoys his first ever taste of fish and it positively melts in our mouths. We all eat until we are nearly bursting and then, while a cool wind whispers through the leaves of the trees around us, we have a nap.
Working for a living never felt this good.
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