Saturday, May 01, 2010

Posted by Laurel Garver on Saturday, May 01, 2010 17 comments
Charity at My Writing Journey is hosting today's blogfest of scenes with cooking or baking. I hope to include some funny cooking moments in my next book, because domestic tasks are so not my MCs strong suit. But since I'm revising the first book like a madwoman, I had to pull out an existing scene with cooking.

This scene is narrated by MC Danielle (Dani) Deane, who's 15. It's the day after a large memorial service was held for her father, a British ex-pat. Her paternal grandparents are making Sunday dinner. Dani's mother and maternal grandfather enter at the end of the scene and have one of their usual "touching moments."

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Some interesting kitchen smells waft down the hall and I realize, for the first time in days, that I’m actually hungry at a normal time.

My Deane grandparents buzz around the kitchen in aprons, looking like characters from the BBC’s Vicar of Dibley plopped into an episode of Chef! Grandpa, in his clerical collar, busily whacks a whisk around a saucepan, scourging a sauce with medieval zeal. Grandma leans over the open oven and prods something richly meaty-smelling inside.

“Hey, what’s up?” I ask, trying to sound casual and not drool.

Grandma closes the oven, smiles. “Ah, sweetheart! You fancy a nice Sunday dinner—leg of lamb, Yorkshire pudding, roasted carrots?”

“And gravy!” Grandpa holds up his whisk with a flourish.

“Sounds scrumptious. Shall I set?” Jeez. I’m talking like a Brit again. I swear it’s contagious. Give me another day with Dad’s family and I’ll be emptying the dustbin and waiting for the rubbish lorry to haul it away.

“Please do,” Grandma says. “I think your aunt got caught up in her e-mail and quite forgot about us.”

I squeeze past Grandpa and pull six plates out of the cabinet. In the midst of cooking noises, a faint tune plays in the background. “Winter Wonderland.” Gosh, I’d forgotten it’s still the holidays. This’ll be a real memorable New Year’s. Instead of screaming in Times Square, I’ll be flying over Greenland with an urn.

“Let’s see.” Grandma shifts her foggy glasses to read the oven timer. “Just seventeen minutes more. I do hope Grace isn’t late.”

“Where is Mum?” I pull out fistfuls of silverware.

“Meeting some fellow, name of Bell,” Grandpa says. “Is it usual for her to work on Sundays? Is that why she’s been at church so little these years?”

“Mr. Bell is headmaster at my school. I hope she’s bribing him to get me out of the piles of homework my teachers expect me to take to England.”

“Bribing! Is it really as bad as all that, dearest?” Grandma asks.

“Hellooo!” Mum calls, bustling in, red-cheeked. There’s a dusting of snow in her hair. She plops a stack of folders and paperbacks on the counter and unwinds her scarf. “That was quite invigorating. Flurrying a little, but not so cold. I should think you could manage the walk to Rexford easily, Dani, with those long legs of yours.”

“Dad liked driving me.”

She leafs though the pile like she didn’t hear me. “Headmaster Bell was quite helpful in getting your reading assignments into travel size. Let’s see. Hamlet in a lovely paperback instead of that huge complete works you’ve been lugging around. Colored photocopies of your textbook chapters: world history, geometry…and anatomy. There’s a pamphlet on volleyball rules for PE, sheet music for chorale….Didn’t think you needed drawing paper. Now this is fabulous—all of your Spanish on CD-ROM! It’s got audio and video clips and even some games. That should pass the time quickly, eh?”

Behind me, someone snorts. I turn, and there's Poppa Tilman, standing in the doorway looking rumpled, like he just woke from a nap.

“Work, work, work,” he says. “You always think that’s the answer, Gracie. Work enough and nothing in life touches you.”

Mum stiffens. “I don’t see how wallowing could help anyone.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

Grandma and Grandpa busy themselves fussing over a cookbook. I’m curious, since they’re arguing about me, but I take the cue: act busy. I stay by the table and slowly place silverware: spoon, spoon, fork, fork. Argument? I don’t hear any argument.

“Are you suggesting we let her fail?” Mum says.

“I’m not suggesting anything,” Poppa says. “I’m saying right out that our girl needs a vacation. Time to just do nothing if she wants.”

“She’s getting time away from classes and routine. But be reasonable. She can’t just drop out of life and expect things to magically get done.”

“So what if they don’t get done, Gracie? You think the headmaster’s gonna call for heads on platters? I don’t think so. All you need’s a note from a therapist. Far as I know, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one in this town.”

Poppa pushes roughly past her, pats my Deane grandparents on the back. “Gayle, Elliott, dinner smells divine. Many thanks for fixing this fine feast.”

Mum quietly straightens my mega-formal three-fork, two-spoon place settings, her mouth downturned. For half a second, she looks like a sad little girl, wishing Pop would compliment her for a change. She notices me watching her, jerks to attention and hurries away.

17 comments:

  1. You sucked me right in...and now I'm hungry!

    Good job! Enjoy your weekend!

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  2. This is great. First I'm really into the food being cooked and hungry and then you shift gears. I can feel the tension rise in the room and the loss of appetite as people struggle to stay busy.

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  3. This was so nice. I could feel and hear the cooking sounds--especially with your description of the whisk.

    I also enjoyed watching your characters interact. It revealed a lot about their personality and I felt like I understood them.

    Not having read more of the story before, my only concern was it felt "light" for her having just lost her father. But maybe she didn't see him a lot? Other than that, I really enjoyed this scene.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I loved this - my favourite line is about the dustbin and rubbish lorry :) You've got talent!

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  5. Yum, yum, Yorkshire pudding! I am hungry now - you certainly have a way with foodie words!

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  6. Oh, I REALLY want a roast dinner now! *shakesfist* You have made me really hungry now. I mean, a lot of the posts have been but my mouth is actually watering now.

    Haha, so I really liked this. I have to say I did smile at the dustbin thing but it was sort of lost of me because until recently I actually had no idea there was a difference in the way Amercians and Brits talk about... erm... rubbish...

    I loved the MC's voice here and also for some reason found Grandma shifting her foggy glasses to read the timer quite stiking.

    Great Stuff!

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  7. Oooh - good scene. The characters are great and well written. I can really feel the emotion and tension of this scene and the food sounds fabulous.

    I'd love for you to come check mine out.

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  8. Great scene - I love the family dynamics going on here. I think I'd like to hang out with Grandma and Grandpa for a while. :)

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  9. Miss V: Thanks! Nothing quite like leg of lamb.

    Sarahjayne: Thanks for your encouraging words. I think this is my one and only food scene, and family tension can't stop squeezing its way in.

    Charity: I'm not a cook myself, so it's good to hear the details sounded authentic.

    Books on grief are a balancing act of tone. Not every scene is teary, nor would you want it to be as a reader. But you have picked up on an underlying dysfunction: this family tends to dance around the elephant in the room.

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  10. Jemi: Thanks. I'm never sure if the cross-cultural references work, so I'm glad you liked them.

    Talli: Yorkshire pudding was my hands-down fave while studying abroad. I happen to like British food and we eat it often. Great British Kitchens site has some killer awesome recipes.

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  11. Mia: Hope you're able to satisfy your lamb craving. :-) And yeah, we Yanks empty the trash can and wait for the garbage truck to haul it away. Weirdly, one only has trash cans indoors. Garbage cans are always outdoors. At least in the northeast US. There's probably regional variation on that.

    Mary: Thanks for your encouraging words. My internet has been horribly spotty today, but I'll do my best to visit!

    Susan: Thanks. They're the sort of cozy grandparents I always wished for.

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  12. The cast of Vicar of Dibley in the Chef!'s kitchen? I can see Lenny Henry doing a LOT of shouting... ;-)

    Great scene. I loved it.

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  13. I loved this scene and found it very authentic. And I laughed over Dani falling into Brit-speak. I still do it and I've been back in the States for over a year!

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  14. Lena: Oh, yay, someone else who knows Chef! I imagine Lenny would have apoplexy with the Dibley crew in his kitchen. :-D

    Jenna: Thanks! Brit speak is terribly contagious. When we spent a few weeks in Durham, hubby started dropping consonants like a Northerner. I was picking up the lilt and ending every sentence with a question.

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  15. Lots of interesting things going on in just a short scene. Wow. Great. I loved the "whacks a whisk around a saucepan" and also the swinging the dead cat to show there are a lot of therapists. It is so easy to pick up other accents. I cannot talk to a southerner without adopting a drawl, so I was right there with the Brit-speak.

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  16. Melanie: Thanks for your kind comments. This scene takes place in NYC, home of the therapist addicted, right? I worked as an energy industry reporter for a while and it was SO HARD to not mimic people I interviewed over the phone. I can tell an Oklahoma accent from Mississippi, though. Not many Yankees can.

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  17. This has such a great voice! I love the paragraph with "spoon, spoon, fork, fork." I would definitely have kept reading this.

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