by cheri block
Yesterday the rain cleansed and cooled the barranca in front of our desert home. The clouds moving east in the turbulent skies wore dark coats with swirling sopped paisley patterns, adorned with bulbous slate buttons of moisture. The scene was gorgeous.
To commemorate a rainstorm in the desert, I prepared a grilled cheese Panini accompanied by a petite bowl of tomato soup with basil. I sat down to eat, watching a small lake form among the cacti. I considered whipping up a strawberry shake, but something way back in the recesses of my mind told me to skip the shake.
Before I knew it, I was no longer in the desert.
* * * * *
My brother Stevie and I were sitting at a counter in a small coffee shop that hugged the banks of the mouth of the Klamath River in northern California. The year was 1960. I was ordering lunch for us. My father was fishing. Those were the days when two little kids could wander the docks unsupervised, making small talk with the Indians who gutted the salmon on a smelly workbench, sliding the roe and innards into the waiting mouths of mongrel dock dogs.
We’ll have two grilled cheese sandwiches, two bowls of tomato soup, and two strawberry milk shakes, please. And can you make those shakes really really thick? Thank you.
We were Hugh’s kids and while Hugh was fishing for super-sized Chinook salmon with Oscar Ginsaw, his Yurok Indian guide, we were hanging out with an unadulterated freedom unknown to kids today.
We shot the breeze with the woman behind the counter. I exaggerated from start to finish. When we had sucked the last drip of shake out of the tall and ribbed soda glasses—a grating noise that sounded like bicycle spokes batting my loose jeans—I bragged to all in attendance about how many German Shepherds we owned, how many friends I had, and how many teeth my father had pulled in a week.
What a storyteller you are little miss, said the waitress Lucille, whose name tag, I remember, was stained with a splotch of ketchup on it.
Lucille’s astute observation only added fuel to the bonfire that had started the moment I had climbed up on the red swivel stool and helped hoist Stevie up there next to me.
Well, I continued, we own five German Shepherds, I have 100 friends, and my dad pulls 50 teeth a week. In fact, I continued, one of our German Shepherds, Miss Dickens, is expecting a litter of probably, oh say, 15 puppies next week. One of my 100 friends, Sissy Hill, was California’s Junior Miss, and my dad made me a necklace with all of the teeth he pulled last month, mainly molars with a few bloody incisors for decoration.
Oh, OK, I said, and we scooted off our stools, full of sandwich and shake, and skipped out the door.
* * * *
Why this memory continues to circulate every now and then, especially when grilled cheese sandwiches rest on my plate, I do not know.
What I do know is that the sense of independence I felt at that time in my making uninhibited and free-ranging food choices and in my grandiose historical inaccuracy without parental correction had a cache that I relish to this very day.