“Avus, what are we?”
The old man looked away from the counter and the dishes he was preparing on the granite countertop of his family restaurant and looked down at the small child looking back at him, chuckled and said, “Why, my leonis parum, we’re human! Why do you ask?” The boy began to frown as his head began to droop and his eyes moved their gaze down to his little feet standing in the white tiled flooring. “Well,” he said, “some of the other kids at school today were asking what I was.” “Huh”, the old grandfather said, “And what did you tell them?” “I told them that I was human. Then they just kept asking what I was and so I told them that I was an Earth but then one of them said, ‘but what ARE you? Are you Italian? Are you Puerto Rican? Are you Korean? Are you African? What are you?’ And I didn’t know the answer or what they meant.” Avus lifted his small, questioning grandson, into the air and sat him down on the counter next to the ingredients that he had set aside for the dinners he was cooking and said, “What do you see Johnathan?” Jonathan looked upon the various plates and ingredients, “Food?” The boy said, curious as to why his grandfather would ask this. Gesturing to the food, the old man sighed with a smile and said, “We, my leonis parum, are like these dishes. We’re not simply just one thing, we're far more complex than that.” The grandfather then began to assemble the dishes as he spoke to his grandchild. “Take this Taco for example.”, he said, “ It is a traditional Spanish and Latin dish, but the way we make it isn't very traditional now is it? You see, I like my tacos a little different than most people. My taco has a flour tortilla and my taco has chicken, yes, but this chicken is fried instead of fajita. And I like to have some chopped up potatoes, which is an ingredient found especially in Irish cooking. To complement the potatoes and the chicken I add in some bacon jam, and then some tomatoes which is the ingredient that practically all of Italian cuisine revolves around. Then, to circle back to the Latin culture, I add some spice in the form of queso blanco with a side of a bean dip, homemade of course, some corn chips and salsa, and a small cup of mixed shredded cheese.” The child picked up one of the tacos and took a bite of the delicious concoction. “Mmm” the child said as he chewed and swallowed one of the many amazing dishes on the menu of his grandfather’s restaurant. “So you see, Johnathan,” his grandfather said, “the Earth family, our family, is the mixture and culmination of every culture, tongue, race, religion, and creed on the planet. So next time someone asks you what you are, you tell them, ‘I am an Earth, I’m a little bit of everything, I’m a good man, and that’s all you need to know.’”
Jonathan’s silver bearded grandfather told the truth. Everyone who knew the Earth family, knew they were somehow, as the elderly chef said, a little bit of everything. What they didn’t know however was how in the world the Earth family became the way they were. But I know how it happened. I know the Earths’ best kept family secret.
Every culture has its own style of food, and has chefs who have mastered that food. Well, long ago, along with humans, there were what we might call “monsters”. One day, the whole human race turned against the monsters that called their lands home. Only certain families, all of which were the world’s greatest cooks, saw reason to defend these magical creatures. Then something happened. Something the Earths refer to as, “the mixing”. No one, not even the Earths, knew how it happened, but at one moment, all the world’s monsters and the chefs that protected them, disappeared. Five years later, they reappeared in a secret place, on the continent now known as North America, before Eroupe discovered the continent’s existence. They were in a place that not even the natives knew of. This place was massive, and had biomes and habitats to fit almost every living thing on the planet. It also had plants and livestock found nowhere else that made whatever meals cooked with them spectacular and in some cases, magical. This was a wondrous place and as such, it was named the wonder woods. It was named this because, as I said, it was a place full of wonder, and it was bordered by woods filled with many different kinds of trees, but only one gateway to the world outside. These chefs and the monsters built a home there, teaching each other the culture of which they cooked with, resulting in the greatest meals to have ever graced the tongues of man. The children of these chefs fell in love with each other, as did their children, and their children, and their children, and so on and so forth. This resulted in the families all becoming related to one another, becoming one clan, one tribe, one family. The Earth family.
But this story isn’t about the Earth family and their secrets, that’s a different story entirely. This is about Jonathan Earth, this is his story.
After Jonathan’s grandfather died, the Earths’ restaurant was closed down and no one entered the Wonder Woods since his death. Time passed, and Jonathan grew up in the outside world, but never forgot his family’s heritage, or the secret of the Wonder Woods.
By the time Jonathan was eighteen, he had graduated at the top of his class from a prestigious culinary school and had begun an internship with a famous chef at his new restaurant in Manhattan. Every day he made recipes the exact same way over and over again. It made him miserable. Sure, he was making a lot of money, and he had a very nice apartment on the upper east side, but when he cooked with his family it was a beautiful art and no two dishes were the same, and every dish was special. However, in New York, it was a science, and always the same, where no dish was special.
One night, Johnathan was on the phone with his mother as he was waiting in a cold subway station about a block away from time square. He could barely hear what his mother was saying over all of the traffic and noise from the city that never sleeps. “You should come visit your family,” she said for the hundredth time, “we miss you so much Fili mi.” “I know, Mater, but I’m so busy here,” Jonathan would always reply, “maybe next year.” “No!”, his mother said, “You said that last year and I will not accept it. Our family is reuniting again in one month. And you had better be there!” And she then hung up. Jonathan put his hand down to his side as he sighed in despair under the lights of the subway station. He knew no one would hear him, he knew he was the only one there, but he spoke into the dark tunnel, assuming that his train would run half an hour late as usual. “I have everything anyone could ever want,” he said, “but why do I feel this way?”
“Tengautchu, chamanchil, tanquanchiso.”, a gruff voice said from further down the tunnel. Jonathan didn’t recognize the voice, but he recognized the language, he jumped onto his feet in shock because the language the voice had spoken in was the secret language used only by Earths and the inhabitants of the wonder woods. Jonathan never learned to speak it or to understand it, but he knew immediately and without a doubt that the voice had spoken with the language of his ancestors. Slowly but surely a figure walked into the light, it looked to be a robotic device made of wood and metal about three or count feet tall with two legs and two arms and a human-like head. It looked almost like a homemade rock-em sock-em robot with legs. The jaw of the machine moved as the voice came from it’s mouth. “You are an Earth,” the machine said, “you should understand what I mean, correct?” Johnathan, being about five foot, eleven inches tall, looked down at the machine and said, “I should understand, but I don’t… wait. How do you know I’m an Earth?” “Oh please,” the machine said, “who else is an exact balance of every race on the planet? Listen…” With a hiss and a clank the gears inside the small wooden and metal man began to turn. With a puff of steam, the machine’s head began to unfold and open like a box revealing a small tube, and out of the tule rose a very small platform. The platform rose and rose up till it was at eye level with Jonathan. Three lenses then came out of the machine and placed themselves in front of the platform to magnify the extension of this peculiar contraption. Johnathan looked through these lenses and saw that upon the circular platform were many small pieces of furniture and machinery. In the middle of this platform stood a man so small that he could fit underneath a fingernail. Johnathan knew right away what this was. It was a dwarf. The smallest creature known to man or monster and traditionally the most inventive one too. The dwarf wore clothes fit for a blacksmith with wild brown hair but a well combed beard. He held a microphone to his mouth and said with an accent that seemed to be a mix of Scottish and Russian, “I was a friend of your grandfather’s, and he was a friend of mine. I would like to do him proud, but I need your help.”
The dwarf pressed a button on one of his many machines, which then made the robot print a piece of paper out from it’s torso. “Atlas international challenge of the chefs” it was titled. The paper seemed to be a flyer for a cooking competition held in Atlanta inviting chefs from all over the world to prepare a, as they put it, “a feast” to feed the judges which are local families in Atlanta. “What’s so special about this contest?”Johnathan asked, “It’s just another gathering of blowhard rednecks who want a taste of good food for once in their lives instead of southern fast food trash.” “Johnathan.”, the dwarf said, “The prize is two point nine billion dollars.”
That sentence shook Johnathan. That was a lot of money after all. “So?”, he said confused, “What would an old dwarf want with two point nine billion dollars in american currency?” The small man groaned and said, “First, my name is Angus, and second, can’t you put two and two together human? You’re dumber than an Orc who thinks it has a tail.” Angus groaned again, then said, “We use the cash from the contest to buy back the old man’s restaurant you oaf!” Johnathan’s heart began to pound like rock n roll bass drum, his mind began racing with ideas and plans even before it decided to enter the contest in the first place because there was no question about it. He was gonna do it, he had to. He couldn’t explain why but he just had to.
The competition would take place every day over the course of three months and he had a month till it began so he had a month to prepare. The only problem was, he would miss the family reunion his mother had been so eager and passionate about. So Johnathan had an idea that would both win him the competition, and let him spend time with his mother. He would prepare for the contest in the home in which he learned to cook. He immediately called his employer and informed him that he had a family emergency and he didn’t know when he would be back. He then booked a ticket on the first flight out of JFK.
As soon as he landed he began to work, to prepare, many different courses all of which brought two or more cultures together in one dish, just like his Avus taught him. But then he did something that made him one hundred percent sure to win. He entered the Wonder Woods for the first time in years. Everything that would enter the judges’ mouths would have at least one ingredient from the woods. Then the day for him to present his food to the families of Atlanta. He had spent a month, every second of it, preparing for this moment. He had cooked so much food, with some magical assistance of course, that they had to store it all in a warehouse and transported in three eighteen wheeler trucks. When waiting to go onto the stage of the convention center where the competition was held to announce the feast he had created. He stood there yet again at the pinnacle moment, in which his hard work would finally bear fruit, where he would finally do right by his grandfather, and yet instead of feeling pride in all he had done, he felt empty.
Then he looked out into the audience, and saw the families and friends conversing at their tables. He had no idea what they were talking about but they all had this glow about them, and suddenly he remembered something. He remembered what Angus had said to him merely a month ago. It’s strange how such a short amount of time could feel like years in one way, and moments in another. He finally understood what Angus meant. “Tengautchu, chamanchil, tanquanchiso.”, he said to himself softly, “It means, it’s not the food that makes a meal magical, the food couldn’t matter less. Only the people you share it with can make it truly amazing.” It’s funny that a few words in the Woods language can mean so much in ours.
Johnathan walked out on stage, sighed, and spoke into the microphone. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said, “I’m sorry but I can not give you the meal I have prepared for you because there is someone else that I need to give this meal to. Ladies and gentlemen, I entered this competition for my family, and now I believe they need me. Thank you, and once again, I am terribly sorry.”
Johnathan then ordered the drivers to bring the feast, of which he had spent a month cooking, to his family. When he walked in the door his mother, my grandmother, embraced Johnathan with open arms as the rest of the family yelled in excitement in the return of their prodigal son. So imagine their excitement when not only had he shown up, but that he had also brought a homemade feast to feed thousands.
I am lucky that Johnathan had cooked so much, because the Earths being the generous people they are called everyone in their small South Georgian town and they fed everyone. And when they ran out of food, they just cooked some more. Now you’re probably wondering how I know all this, why I’m lucky they had extra food at the Earth house that night, and how it is that Gretchen Earth (Johnathan’s mother) is my grandmother. Well among the people that Johnathan fed with his food that night was a breathtakingly beautiful woman, who is the kindest woman I have ever known, named Samantha Darkwood, later to be Samantha Earth. My name is William Earth, son of Samantha and Johnathan Earth. This is the story of how my parents met. This is the story of a meal that mattered more than any amount of money on the planet. A meal that was truly, and there is no other word for this…