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 Chicken 'n' Dumplings at the Owl Café

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PostSubject: Chicken 'n' Dumplings at the Owl Café   Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:07 am

Chicken 'n' Dumplings at the Owl Café



It was mid-July, 1965, and I was a strapping 13 year old growin' up in Texas.

We'd just moved from Snyder, the Snyder that was the seat of Scurry County, to Dallas, right after the end of the eighth grade. Now, dependin' upon a body’s perspective, I’ve heard Scurry County described as bein’ in West Texas, southern Panhandle, or even Central Texas. ‘Bout three hundred miles northwest of Austin, and over two hundred fifty miles west of Dallas. Long ways from anywhere.

Anyhow, a few weeks later, Ma decided on a weeklong trip back to Snyder to visit some folks and collect a few more of our belongings. The drive was fairly uneventful; but the visitin’ was as fun as could be. In those days in that part of Texas a young lad could find almost anything but boredom.

A lazy week was spent visitin’ with friends and relatives, with me spendin’ countless hours adventurin’ with my colleagues, all of them of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn bent. Huntin’ arrowheads, fishin’, tinkering, sneakin’ out windows in the middle of the night, and generally enjoyin’ all sorts of mischief.

And of course, the sad day finally arrived.

We were to be pullin’ stakes and headin’ east. Back to “Big D.”

Not bein’ anxious to hurry into the tedium of the road trip, right after breakfast I asked if I could wander off for a while with my pard Bill. A slightly older, and of course MUCH wiser lad. And after all, we may never see each other again! Oh, all right… just be DARN sure to be back by eleven o’clock, ‘cuz that was when we were headin’ out.

BB guns in hand, Bill and I quickly warmed up our PF Flyers in the hot red dust, headed for the wilderness of the local creekbed.

Well, sometime that afternoon we managed to conclude our wilderness expedition, and moseyed back to Bill’s house.

Uh oh…

Where’s Ma’s car?

Lookin’ as innocent as we could, we quietly let ourselves in.

Bill’s mom was sittin’ in her rocker, knitting. Hearing us creeping along, she looked at us over her glasses. Clearing her throat, she crooked a long index finger at us, silently summoning us to present ourselves to her forthwith.

We did.

“And where have you young men been?” she queried, in a voice more curious than angry or annoyed.

“Well, Mrs J,” I replied, “We’ve been down to the creek lookin’ for artifacts. Uh huh, that’s where we’ve been all right!”

“And did you forget that you were to be back by eleven?”

Actually, in the thrill of our anthropological expedition, I had forgotten. But instead of ‘fessin’ up, I simply grinned and pointed out that that neither of us had a watch.

“Okay,” she said. “Your ma couldn’t wait any longer; she wanted to get back to Dallas before dark with your little brothers and sister. So here’s the deal: To teach you a little responsibility, you will be washing dishes for Bill’s dad until you earn enough money for a bus ticket to Dallas. You will be paid the princely sum of ten cents an hour, and you will work mornings, during the dinner period and the same for supper.” (This is where I s’pose I should mention that Bill’s Pa just happened to be a restaurateur of the highest caliber, as he owned the well-renowned Owl Café, right on the highway headin’ out of town).

Oh, Boy! Gainful employment! My First Job!! So what if I had to spend all my hard-earned income on a bus ticket – it’d be a sure-fire adventure fer sure!

Bright and early the next mornin’ found us at Mrs Johnson’s breakfast table, enjoyin’ family time, not to mention a darned good meal. Buckwheat pancakes with blackstrap molasses, ham and eggs, grits, and redeye gravy. I just couldn’t work my way through it fast enough to head out and start my new career.

Two hours later, by golly I was trained and a veteran “Pearl Diver!” Clad in my kitchen cap, long apron, and rubber gloves up past my elbows I quickly got into the swing of things and in short order was turnin’ them dirty dishes and flatware into sparklin’ clean stuff fresh and ready for the next diner. Hardly got yelled at at all, and didn’t send all that many plates and forks back into action adorned with residual egg yolk.

And then came the fateful day.

Breakfast came and went without note, and Pa Johnson was soon busy workin’ on the luncheon blue plate special, his personal favorite and source of great pride, his famous Chicken and Dumplings. Now, I’d had Pa’s Chicken and Dumplings before, and had to agree with just about everyone around that it was about the best you’d find anywhere – almost as good as Ma’s, and even better’n Grandma’s. Heck, even Grandma admitted hers wasn’t quite up to Pa’s standard!

Bein’ all caught up with my dishes, I endeavored to learn somethin’ of the art. As Pa scurried about with the intensity of an alchemist, I was his constant shadow. Oddly, I didn’t realize at that time that his soft recitations just may have been grumbles about the “kid” bein’ in the way, until finally the maestro turned to me, and with a cheery smile, suggested that I might find it much more comfortable to wait outside until there was some business to generate dirty dishes. So with a grin I grabbed Bill and off we scurried.

The dinner hour approached.

The dinner hour arrived.

At about half past noon, there was not a single diner in the Owl Café. Bill and I peered through the window from time to time to check on Pa, who just stood by the counter wringing his hands, with steaming pots visible behind him and a wonderful aroma filling the café.

But no diners.

Finally, about a quarter to one, Bill and I were startled by a screaming gasp that almost had us jumping out of our socks!

We each managed to execute a 180 degree mid-air turn and landed facing the source of the alarm.

And there stood Pa. My first thought upon seeing him standing there was that he must’ve accidentally gotten a snootful of cayenne pepper, judgin’ from his red face and the way his eyes were bulging, and his jaw working furiously with only a strange stranglin’ sound comin’ out. After a moment, the poor man must’ve caught his breath and cleared his lungs, then he hung his head and wearily returned to the kitchen.

I looked at my pard and said “Dang, Bill! Yer pa’s workin’ too hard! Mebbe we should go in and have some chicken ‘n’ dumplings and help ‘im clean up.”

“That’s a good ideal. But first, let’s put away our BB guns and pick up all these dead sparrows. We did good! Look! Must a dozen in this pile, and at least five or six more hangin’ off Pa’s ‘Chicken ‘n’ Dumplin’s’ mar-kee sign! Man, but that Daisy of your’s shore is a shooter!”

Well, I will say that Pa Johnson was about the best boss I ever had. A really fair man! The next morning, early, he announced that I’d done such a grand job my first week of employment that I was getting’ a bonus – and had already earned enough for a Greyhound ticket to Dallas! That was plumb wonderful, and that very night I got to have Ma’s home cookin’ for dinner.

How lucky can a kid get – chicken ‘n’ dumplings two days in a row!
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PostSubject: Re: Chicken 'n' Dumplings at the Owl Café   Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:27 am

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