I am excited about today’s guest because this is her first time visiting us here at CMash Reads. I was contacted by frequent visitor, author and friend, Melissa Foster (Come Back To Me, Megan’s Way and more great books) to ask if I would host today’s guest. And every author that Melissa has recommended have been amazing authors. So there was no hesitation. I ask that you please help me welcome Michaelene McElroy to our group!!!
Michaelene McElroy makes her debut as an author with The Last Supper Catering Company. She lives on four acres in the woods on an island in the Puget Sound of Washington State where magic is ever present. Visit Michaelene at her website, Facebook and Twitter.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The Last Supper Catering Company is the humorous and heartwarming story of B. Thankful Childe-Lucknow. Turned out with red corkscrew hair, one eye brown, the other green, and gifted with the power to hear the voices of the departed, B. Thankful is cast aside by the town, and lives an isolated upbringing in the woods with Big G, Little G, and Tyler Lucknow.
Tragedy, followed by the discovery of a long-forgotten paint-by-number picture of the Last Supper, thrusts B. Thankful from the safety of everything she has ever known.
Beyond the boundary of her sheltered life, B. Thankful discovers the world’s hard edges as well as its beauty. More importantly, with the help of a cast of quirky and tenderhearted souls (both earthly and heavenly), she discovers why God made her special.
Reviews: “The Last Supper Catering Company is beautifully crafted, a throwback to a style half forgotten yet sorely missed.” — Nick Bantock, Author/Artist Griffin and Sabine Trilogy
“…With tones of To Kill a Mockingbird and Forrest Gump, this novel tenderly declares its own delicious literary voice of innocence and courage, with rich, full characters and marvelous sightings of what the world could be…A literary gem that begs to be savoured…” – Tess Wixted, Associate Editor, Life As A Human
Read an excerpt:
Following are excerpts from Chapters Three, Four and Five: The year is 1968. Since B. Thankful’s birth in 1950, and her shunning by the town for being “different,” B. Thankful has lived in the woods, protected by Big G, Little G, and Daddy from the outside world, but that’s about to change forever, and it all starts with a wish.
THREEWhen I was seventeen, Daddy took up with the sickness that’s got no cure. As Daddy had no people of his own to care for him, Little G had me move him from his cabin across the river into our house. Though the times had somewhat changed, some folks still saw the world in either black or white, and those same folks didn’t take to Little G swirling the colors together. From the day we moved Daddy in, she made sure her shotgun was always loaded and near the front door. That’s how much she loved Daddy.
I, too, would have done anything for my Daddy, and there must have been some part of him that knew it to be true. One morning, when I finished telling Daddy one of my stories, he rested his tired hand on mine. He watched the curtains lazily rising and falling with the breeze; his tapered breath, best it could, doing the same. Daddy’s speech came out slow, the space between each word giving thoughtful consideration to the next.
“You know what would make me happy before I die, B.?”
Daddy had never before mentioned the absolute, and I was so taken aback by his matter-of-fact way, I lost my reply, could only shake my head. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, fearful if he leaned toward suffering, he might ask me to help him cross over before the hour God intended.
Between breaths as light as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, Daddy said his wish wasn’t for himself, but for Little G, who seemed as near as Daddy to calling an eternal time out. My heart started beating fast because I knew what Little G was longing for, and had been longing for it ever since Big G’s passing, seven years prior.
It was all I could do not to call out my own wish: Please don’t say it, Daddy. Please don’t say it. And then the three words never meant to line up one behind the other did just that: jellied pig’s feet. I grew up spying that nasty concoction in the icebox, and no matter how many times I saw it, it turned me shrill. Tired of my shrieks, Big G hid the jellied pig’s feet under a plastic shower cap, but it was a useless cover up. And, try as I might, I couldn’t hide my disgust when Big G spooned the whole wobbly mess onto a plate and Little G slathered horseradish mustard over each nasty bite. The way it quivered up to Little G’s mouth made it look as if the pig’s feet were making one last attempt at a getaway.
But here’s the thing I’ll never forget–the sound of pleasure coming from deep within Little G, the pure joy lighting up her face, and that same joy resting on Big G’s face as she watched her girl. A kind of holy communion took place between the two of them, like Daddy and me sharing a Banner Bar.
If I could bring a final joy to Daddy by fixing jellied pig’s feet for Little G, I would just have to pull on my big girl boots and make Big G’s god-awful dish. I owed them both that much…FOURNext morning, on the sly, I thumbed through Little G’s recipe box, where I found a worn- out piece of paper with the ingredients for jellied pig’s feet. I recognized Big G’s stiff letter-by-letter way, but she didn’t spell out how much of this or how much of that to use. Deep down in her belly know-how, Big G understood numbers had nothing to do with the righteous power of food; a person’s loving intention was the main ingredient necessary for an eternal soul-to-soul union.
If still alive, Big G could have taught me how she made her jellied pig’s feet with so much love it had reached right in and took hold of Little G’s senses for all of time. Without Big G’s help, my Daddy’s final wish, the only thing he ever asked of me, wouldn’t come true. I couldn’t let that happen. Hard pressed to make Daddy’s wish come to pass, I gave birth to the most far-fetched plan I ever hatched.
I went searching for Little G’s old wooden picture box and found it in the sideboard. If you put Little G in an angry state of mind around you, she took your picture out of the box and placed it in an old medical book under diseases. When things went right again between you, back to the box you’d go. That is, everyone but Little G’s ex-husband, Useless, who ran out on her when she was pregnant with Momma. His picture was permanently glued in the old medical book under warts…
…Thumbing through pictures of long gone strangers, looking for a picture of Big G, I discovered there were notes on the back of each picture…
…There were pictures of folks who loved stews; cornbread (some the way those up north ate it, and those who were staunch in the way of the south); ice cream in every flavor imaginable; barbecued ribs; thick slices of ham with their eggs–sunny side up, scrambled, poached, wrecked on a raft; mustard pickles on buttered rye bread; potatoes–fried, hash browned, boiled, baked; you name it. And some folks yearned all the cold winter long for cobblers filled with the fat berries and juicy peaches only found in the heat of summer.
Finally, I found what I was looking for and sat down at the kitchen table with a picture of Big G. Unlike Little G, who was about as big as a minute—but don’t let that fool you, that woman was strong—Big G was a tall woman with broad shoulders, large hands, and a vestigial third tit. I kid you not. And she wore a look in her eyes that told you she didn’t have the time for much more than a postcard conversation.
Like I said before, the departed had been sharing their stories with me for as long as I can remember, but Big G had never dropped so much as a single word anywhere close to my ear. I closed my eyes, rested my hand on Big G’s picture, and put my plan to the test. My thumb tapped out:
Since only Big G had the answer I needed, I couldn’t give up hope. I tapped and tapped. Waited and waited. If by some miracle I reached her, I figured Big G might start with a “Howdy, B. Thankful,” or “Isn’t this a hoot!” But when Big G suddenly came through, she got right to the point, like a postcard. Fortunately, without Wish you were here!
“Ask when the pig was slaughtered, and to see the blood. It should be deep red, not rusty in color. Look for meaty feet. Peel the skin back to see the flesh.”
Somewhere around “peel back,” all of my insides started churning. I was glad for the chair beneath me, for my own feet turned jellylike and would have left me lying in a pool of quiver.
A quick rap to the side of my head brought me back to attention. I rubbed my eyes to prove I was seeing things with my daytime mind and not dreaming. As if she hadn’t dropped dead seven years back, there sat Big G at our kitchen table, just as nonchalant as could be.
I had never actually thought about, or, for that matter, desired to talk face-to-face with the departed; hearing their voices was quite enough. As was its job in the past, my thumb was busy tapping away, but it wasn’t spelling anything. While I was gawkin’, Big G went on talkin’, not giving me one iota of a chance to ponder how this wonder of wonders was possible. As always, Big G’s manner was direct, her words lean.
“You won’t find the soul of this dish in words or numbers. You’ve got to go beyond what you see, into what you feel. I can show you how. Let’s fetch supplies and get to work.” Well, so much for pleasantries…FIVE…It was getting late by the time I got home from my day with Big G, and I found Daddy and Little G in full slumber exactly where I had left them. After I fixed them a simple supper of collard greens and cornbread, which they mostly just poked at, I tucked them into their beds and, as if they were my own children, told each a special story I made up just for them. When I was certain they were asleep, I went about my business in the kitchen with Big G. We had no more than started when Little G called out, “Who are you talking to?”
Big G gave me the hush signal, as if I might tell Little G her dead momma was visiting, and maybe she’d like to put on her chenille robe, come out, and chew the fat with her. I waved Big G off.
“Nobody, Little G. I’m just singing. Are you all right? Do you need anything?”
When she didn’t answer, I hurried down the hall. Frail as a baby bird, Little G was perched on the edge of her bed, her skinny legs dangling over the side. Little G stared down at the very close veins on her hands, and then into my eyes.
“You sure there’s nobody else in the house but your daddy?”
I didn’t think myself lying when I nodded my head. Really, there was no other body in the house…
…Back in the kitchen… For old time’s sake, we kept one of Big G’s aprons on a hook near the pantry. When I slipped it over my head, an unfamiliar sensation moved through my body. My insides grew fuller and my skin turned as tight as a ready to burst watermelon left too long on the vine…
…Please don’t think me crazy, but I got the feeling I wasn’t alone in my own body, someone else working from inside me, tying the apron strings. I looked over to where Big G had been sitting, but the chair was empty; only her picture remained, leaned up against the honey jar. I panicked.
“Big G, where are you?”
“I’m right here, B. Thankful.”
Oh, mercy! Saints preserve me! I swear what happened is not one of my stories. I wouldn’t know how to make this up. If I’m lyin’, let me be dyin’. When Big G’s voice sat in the curve of my ear, I was fine with that, recognized it for what it was. I was even getting used to having her come back for a visit. What I was not ready for was Big G inside of me.
“Get out! Get out!”
“Now, don’t go all haywire on me, B. I’m new to this, too. We don’t wanna get stuck in some oddball way that would be hard to explain, do we? Shouldn’t we give God’s handiwork a try?”
Soon as Big G mentioned God, I recalled Little G saying God had chosen me to do Him a favor one day, and then Daddy telling me God sent me here to do something great. Just in case this was it, peculiar as the setting was, I handed myself over.
“Okay,” I said, same as if Big G told me she was going outside–no mind about it, really. But I had a question I needed answered. “Do I have to talk out loud to you, or can you hear me through my thoughts?”
“Good question. Let’s find out.”
I screwed up my forehead and concentrated, then asked with my mind, “What do I do first?”
“Put all the ingredients on the counter,” Big G answered. It worked! Big G heard my thoughts.
I laid out the ingredients on the kitchen counter: pig’s feet, celery, carrots, garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. My movements were Big G’s movements–quick and sure; my hand, her hand that knew her old knife, had lived all the stories held in its handle. We had become woven into a tapestry of good cookin’ know-how. Together we trimmed the feet, plucking out a bristly stray hair, and then christened the pig’s parts under cold water and scrubbed away anything unholy.
“Good job, B. Now, one more time in clear water, honey, then light the stove.”
Once the fire got going and we put the pot on the stove, Big G started humming Down by the Riverside. My own vocal chords strummed along with her until we were humming in fine harmony.
“I’m like a ventriloquist who swallowed her dummy,” popped into my head.
“Not funny!” But Big G was laughing when she said it.
When the water came to a boil, I carefully set the feet to cooking.
“Now’s the time to add a little salt. Salt now will enter the meat in a slow way; salt at the end will simply sit on top. You don’t want that. And not too much now, you want to add a little more when the time comes to add the vegetables. Okay, B., take some of those peppercorns, about the size of a blackberry not quite ready to pick, and set them down on the board for cracking.”
I gave them a whack and some of the peppercorns turned buckshot, flying out from under the knife.
“Now add the peppercorns and two bay leaves to the pot. Wait.” Big G had me taste a bay leaf. “No, make that two and a half bay leaves.”
Once the liquid came to a boil, I turned it down to a simmer. For the next two hours, the pig’s feet simmered in a relaxed way, the pointed hooves floating to the top and bouncing up and down in a circle like fishing bobbers.
In their own time, the bay leaves gave themselves up to the broth and the peppercorns released their fiery oils. A meaty, yet delicate fragrance tinged with sharpness rose from the pot and found its way into my lungs. A burst of aliveness sent me spinning through the kitchen, where the temperature was no less than a hundred and ten degrees. But I was cool as a cucumber as we sliced through carrots without effort, orange coins stacking up neatly, then chopped sweet celery, and garlic, sticky and sure of itself.
One time, when I was a smidge of a girl, my Daddy woke me from a sound sleep in the middle of the night and carried me outside, where the cold air of winter stung my face, and rain rushed from the sky, as if late for a reunion. Daddy pointed up, and I was put out he woke me just to show me a full moon. Before I had a chance to start squawking, Daddy turned me around to the sky opposite the moon and I witnessed a most rare and mysterious sight–a moonbow. Mystifying as that moonbow was, it paled in comparison to the sanctified magic spinning around Big G and me in our kitchen.
It was around midnight when Big G gave me the go ahead to add the vegetables. I watched as the carrots, celery, and garlic took a slip slide from the board and joined the bobbing hooves.
“Now’s the time to see if a little more salt is needed.”
Oh, jeez, I knew that meant I was gonna have to taste the broth. You’d a thought I was about to take a dose of cod liver oil the way my face squeezed up. With more than an ounce of queasiness, I dipped the spoon into the broth, tiny rafts of pepper floating on the surface. Trying to buy time, I blew on it and blew on it until Big G cleared her annoyed throat.
When my lips touched the edge of the spoon, I tasted how the pork had turned the broth meaty and salty; the fat was smooth on the inside of my mouth. The pepper and bay leaves didn’t bite back; they laced the broth with their spicy perfume. None of the ingredients stood in front of the other; they worked together in harmony.
Big G let out a little sigh, as if she had sampled the broth and found it just right. It was then I knew it had all come together, and I quickly doused the flame beneath it.
“Nice call, B. You recognized the moment of perfection all on your own. Now you need to strain it off. Set the colander over my big earthenware bowl and run some cold water alongside it. The cool water will keep the steam from taking over. Go slow so you don’t burn yourself.”
I watched the broth fill the colander, with fall-off-the-bone tender meat, and vegetables right behind. With the flesh shrinking up some during cooking and the bones of the pig laid bare, a deep and abiding respect for the animal rose within me.
The next part of my job took some getting used to, but with Big G’s expert hand I learned how to crack the joints to extract all the meat. Once the vegetables had been added and the strained broth poured over the meat, I looked upon my very first batch of jellied pig’s feet. By the grace of God, and Big G’s help, I had been shown how to recreate the meal that, even across the great divide, forever linked two souls together.
The most important ingredient not found in the words or numbers was Love. Remember me, for I will remember you.
That ready to pop feeling I had when Big G entered my body was plucked from me, and a big sigh went along with it. I opened my eyes and there sat Big G wearing a blue ribbon smile.
“Well, that was different. I gotta say, B. Thankful, traveling light is a lot better than being stuck in a body. I forgot how tight they feel. And, double G-daughter of mine, I am so proud of you. You accepted your calling with willingness and grace.”
“What calling is that, Big G?”
Big G puffed up as if ready to recite a script she had rehearsed over and over again, her manner of speech, preacher flavored.
“B. Thankful Childe-Lucknow, God has chosen you to walk among the dy —”
An urgent call from Little G sent me running to her room before Big G could finish her sermon…
MICHAELENE McELROY IS HOSTING A SPECIAL GIVEAWAY. HERE ARE THE DETAILS:
As the story for The Last Supper Catering Company unfolds, B. Thankful learns about the power of food prepared with love, the communion that takes place between the giver and receiver, and the eternal bond that remains even after the giver has departed from this world to the next. When B. Thankful discovers that her ability to hear the voices of the departed is the magic needed to fulfill the wish of the dying, she becomes a conduit between earth and heaven (where the recipe now resides).
Close your eyes and let your heart lean back in time to a moment when you tasted food prepared with so much love, it’s the one meal you would want for your last supper. Who prepared your favorite dish that will forever sing Remember me, for I will remember you? Send in your stories and recipes and the winner will receive an autographed copy of The Last Supper Catering Company. Visit Michaelene’s blog here to enter. Giveaway ends December 21st. Good Luck
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