The comfort of the secret ingredient soothed Great Grandma Eva, as one unexpected guest after the other (eight in all), invaded her tiny- cozy farmhouse that cold, late winter February night. Alarming news of forecasts of snow accumulations, in excess of four feet, were jamming the telephone party lines in the remote farming community, situated between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, in Northwestern New York.
Schools closed early, and many families scurried, in preparation for the impending super storm. Short of a full day, a rush on Korn’s IGA, left the small grocery store shelves empty and bare, depleted, except for one travel pack of saltine crackers. (One might suppose it was just desserts, and a fitting reward to the local mischief of mice that had dodged the resident cat and cheese filled traps, that they indulge in the ironic offering.) Like the littlest of mice, the last of the respite seekers, Aunt Grace and Grandma Carm, (the happiest of widowed twin sisters) arrived shortly after ten. Lester and Bernice and their two, overly rambunctious boys, Kevy and Terry, had made their way to the time honored farm house shortly after supper, and were still working a gig-saw puzzle of a jar containing thousands of marbles, when Uncle Dave and Aunt Lottie came knocking at the back door.
The reason for the stampede on the sagging little farm house was due to the fact that great grandpa John (now deceased) refused to give into the “modern gidgets,” as he insisted on calling them (electric baseboard heaters, running water, and indoor plumbing). So, as good fortune, or divine providence would have it, Great Grandma Eva’s place was one of the only sources of heat on the Old Lynch Road. All present, who were now huddled around the warm and soul-soothing fireplace, sipping hot cider, and singing the old hymns of their faith (because of the county wide power outage) owed their cozy place of comfort to Great Gramdpa John’s stubbornness and non-conformity.
After the final stanza of Amazing Grace was sung, Grandma Carm quietly stood from the old spinet piano bench, and Aunt Grace gently placed the aged and tattered hymnal back to it’s safe resting place; the youngest of the boys was found snuggled and asleep under the pile of winter coats that had been drying next to the fireplace; the eldest was still quite lively, asking for more cookies and warm milk. Uncle Dave was snoring, his head resting on Aunt Lottie’s shoulder. Bernice was clearing the left over refreshments, while instructing Lester to carry Kevy upstairs to bed.
“It’s late, nearly midnight,“ chimed Great Grandma Eva. In the morning we shall have a special treat with our fresh milk and hot coffee,” she proudly announced. “Now off you go, all of you, off to bed,” she shooed. As she settled the last of the winter storm sheltered guests in their perspective places of slumber, Great Grandma Eva cozied up in her favorite arm chair in sight of the picture of Great Grandpa John, “I shall keep the fire warm and stoked,” she whispered to the snowflakes, which were still falling, as she peered through the farmhouse window.
While drifting off to a peaceful place of rest Great Grandma Eva wrestled with how to feed so many guests in the morning - the problem of too many guests and too little bisquick (after great grandpa John’s death, great grandma Eva gave into this most of modern pre-packaged conveniences) alarmed great grandma Eva, ever so slightly. Jolted from her near place of sleep, she positioned another perfectly sized oak log onto the toasty fire, and as was customary, she consulted with Great Grandpa John. His portrait, situated on mantle next to his urn, now for nearly a decade, remained peacefully in that sacred place. It was there that they often prevailed over the most difficult of situations; this particular predicament would prove quite minuscule by comparison, after all, she had the secret ingredient. ***
The after-storm-streaked-morning-sun peeped through the gap in the antique laced paisley-pleated curtains, offering a new beginning to each of the guests. The near fatefully-feared-four-feet of snow fell considerably short of the predicted amount, finding all the shelter-seekers restfully relieved, and yearning for a tiny morsel to fill their empty bellies. The early emergence of the song-birds cheerful sound, offered hope that the super storm was over, and that a hint of spring was soon to be found. The scent of freshly brewed, hickory-flavored-eggshell-laced coffee, wafted past all of their flared nostrils, as they seemed to simultaneously breathe in the fresh morning air. Stretching and yawning, they slowly pulled their feet away from the now room temperature hot water bottles, which kept their frosty feet toasty warm through chilled night. Eventually, all found the courage to venture out from under their fashionably quilted comforters. Everyone’s stockingless toes could feel the chill from the old farmhouse hardwood floor. “Burrs,”from the sleepy-eyed guests filled the air. Hearing her family’s chilly discomfort, Great grandma Eva added a fresh cut pine log onto the still glowing embers from the previous night’s blasting blaze.
Summoned by the clang-a-lang-a-lang, from the decades old, rust encroached cow bell, all found their usual places around the spaciously adorned, hand crafted breakfast table; as promised, Great Grandma Eva presented the ”special treat.” From root cellar, Cousin Donna appeared (she arrived just before sun up on her snowmobile) holding a heaping tray of her homemade cinnamon buns - “Bigger than a pot-belly stove!” Kevy laughed a snort of milk from his nose after his older brother blurted out, breaking one of the breakfast table rules. Both boys noticed their mother’s raised eyebrow, which meant, “We will talk about this later!” After a rather lengthy, grub prolonging prayer, offered by Uncle Dave (ending abruptly by Aunt Lottie’s rabbit like jabs to his ribs) all dove in, heartily consuming the cinnamon buns, and a most delectable balance of freshly baked and bountiful biscuits, along with the most delectable crumbly-crumbed-crumb-cakes know to man (another of Cousin Donna’s treats).
The lively morning conversation was robust; filled with hind-sighted, “I told you so’s,” making reference to the "super" snow storms lack of severity. The highly animated, jovial, and at times even comical, breakfast table chatter began to wane as the last sips of coffee were slurped from the saucers, or mopped up with the remaining morsels of cake crumbs. “Truly, the most satisfying breakfast biscuits ever to come out of your oven,” Grandma Carm complimented with delight. Aunt Grace gleefully agreed, “Indeed!” The boys smacked their lips and slurped their last sips, in approval; their mom and dad looked on and just shook their heads. Uncle Dave belched out, “Well not to brag or anything,” as though he were taking credit for success of the unusual gathering. Aunt Lottie sighed, “Oh, David!”
In the end, the portrait of Great grandpa John continued to rest in it customary place on the oak mantle, which just a blustery night ago, warmed all who took refuge from the howling tempest; his eyes piercing all beholders with indescribable warmth and heartfelt love. The snow storm refugees were most gracious; the fearful expectations of finding themselves snowbound and in distress were, at least for this time, all but a distant memory. Great Grandma Eva’s heart was happy! The memories she maintained of Great Grandpa John, and his sacred place on the mantel (the secret ingredient) were secure; the departing guest’s bellies were full.