Story for the Day: Helping in the Kitchen -- Part 1
Tyfferim, a municipality of farmers and craftsmen, have powers of persuasion like no other subjects in the kingdom. Tyfferim guilt, a longstanding understood ability, always prevails when someone born and raised in Tyfferim is speaking to someone who wasn't, but never is Tyfferim guilt more prevalent when guests from out of town are visiting for the holidays. It is all well and good that guests should want to help their host prepare what needs to be done for the festivities, but be you king or beggar, may the Gods help you if you dare insist on helping an old farmer's wife manage her kitchen. An extra long story today, courtesy of our Patrons:
Aiden and Adaoire moved toward the kitchen, taking the scene by the hearth in their way. Sheamas had come and was sat down with the children, and they and Kai Linaa listened to Jaicobhtell his stories with childlike zeal, wanting to know what happened next, who would marry whom, and what villain would be trounced in the course of the story. Fables belonging to the holiday were the order of the day, and brandishing Kai Linaa’s hat, Jaicobh read to the children and performed every character part, Kai Linaa eagerly waiting for a female part to read her lines. The gasps and gapes of the children as every page was turned, the crepitation of the fire dancing about, the murmuration of the giants were all Jacob’s accompaniment, and as shouts rang out for the villain of the story to meet his demise, Adien and Adaoire moved to the kitchen, where their mother was delegating orders to Martje and trying to convince everybody else to leave the kitchen if they meant to offer any help at all.
“Out o’ my kitchen,” the good old woman demanded. “I know you girls mean well, but if yer not helpin’ me take somethin’ out o’ the oven or puttin’ somethin’ in it, you might as well go sit with Jaicobh and Shea and listen to the stories-- Maith Ailineighdaeth, boys,” she cooed, coming toward her eldest sons and kissing them with maternal solicitude. “Adaoire, yer girl’s rilin’ me, tryin’ to help me an’ all when sure I don’t need it. It’s good of you to want to help, Deal, and I know this kitchen ain’t mine anymore, but it sure is mine now, and yer runnin’ me ragged tryin’ to help what don’t need helpin’.”
Adaoire gave his wife a complacent look and shrugged. “Told you Ma’d throw you out if you tried anythin’.”
“There’ll be no throwin’ in it,” said Calleen, “but you got young-uns to look after, and even though Jaicobh’s with ‘em, better to mind them than me. I love you like yer my own, girl, but out you go if yer not here for a gob and a gab.”
“Ma,” said Deal, in a plaintive voice, “you have too much to do for so many people—“
“Girl,” Calleen interposed, holding up a hand, “I know you mean well, but I raised eight young-uns and looked after an ailin’ man meself. I ain’t so old that I can’t prepare a dinner for the lot of you. When I’m too old to stand, that’s when I’ll ask for yer help. For now—“ she pointed a finger toward the sitting room-- “Out.”
Dealanna, however, would stay in the kitchen, folding her arms in defiance of the hale and hardy old woman shooing her out of it, and Boudicca and Carrigh, being two guests for the evening, stood together in the corner of the kitchen, the commander smiling to herself and shaking her head, and Carrigh trying desperately to get away with setting a few more places at table while Calleen’s attention was elsewhere.
“I’m the matron o’ this house, girl,” said Calleen, with firm kindness, “but yer leavin’ this kitchen or I’m havin’ Adaoire drag you out.”
Adaoire’s eyes darted about, and with an unassuming look, he began inching his way backward over the threshold.
“if yer goin’ yer takin’ yer girl with you,” Calleen insisted. “And don’t think I don’t see you at it, Majesty,” said Calleen, addressing Carrigh without looking at her.
The shame of having placed a spoon and rearranged a few forks assailed her, and Carrigh put her hands behind her back and seemed sorry for what she had done. and Carrigh anxiously returned one of the dessert forks to their holder, which she was secreting away toward the table before Mrs Donnegal had accused her.
“Sure yer the Queen, but I ain’t above whippin’ you with my dishcloth if I see anymore place settin’.”
“Be you master seamstress or Queen of Frewyn,” said Boudicca, “you shall never escape the stinging end of a mother’s dishcloth.”
“I’ve never met anyone so vehement about my not helping them,” Carrigh whispered, sidling the commander. “Pastaddams never complains, and my mother certainly never stopped me from helping her whenever I’m home.”
“But you are your mother’s daughter, Carrigh. Guests in a Tyfferim farmhouse are never allowed to help. It’s blasphemy to think so and an unconscionable slight to the matron of the house for her guests to do anything like set a table. If you dare offer to pick up the plates or wash the dishes, you will be tossed out and never allowed back again.”
Carrigh’s eyes blazed in a fever of terror, and Calleen looked all the conviction she felt on the subject.
“Aye, so,” said the old woman. “Her man knows what to do: sit down, enjoy the company, and wait for dinner.”
“He is a seasoned guest in Frewyn houses of every distinction, and he does just what he ought: he is grateful for the invitation, he wipes his feet when he enters, he eats everything his host will give him, and he helps only when asked.”
Carrigh seemed distressed, and said quietly, leaning toward the commander, “This goes against everything I was taught at home. Not offering to help means I would be considered a bad guest, and I wouldn’t dare argue with the host.”
“You do what polite society considers requisite, but we farmers are ruined for propriety. Helping is impertinence, bringing presents to the host of the evening is barbarous, and anything like civility shown at table means you must be squandering your time there. Bleezed shouting, indecorous musings, and high revel is how a farmer’s family operates at any celebration. Adaoire agrees with me.”
Carrigh turned to the vulgar farmer, whose lips were pursing with wry smiles. He gave a nod, said a self-satisfied, “That’s a holiday,” and quietly tried to bring his wife away from the kitchen.
Excuse, however, would not work themselves on a mind bent on assisting, and Dealeanna, regardless of the entreaties from her husband to join the party by the fire, and despite the added supplication from Aiden for Dealeanna to keep Triskillien company, go she would not. There was a remedy to this, as Calleen well knew: she must give Dealeanna a something to do, something arbitrary that bore the air of importance if Dealeanna’s perseverance was to be subverted, and a kettle was soon taken from the stove and a tea trey was called for, a job which Dealeanna readily fell into, as she was being asked. She took the trey from the corner of the room, filled the large pot, and with the question of, “Would you ever be a darlin’ and give the guests some tea?” Dealanna went with ready concurrence, feeling herself the master of employment, doling teacups and carrying tea round the sitting room with smiling decision.
“You do realize that once she’s discovered how you’ve had her for a lark, she will be back in here to torment you again,” said Boudicca.
“She wanted a somethin’ to do, now she’s got it,” Calleen asserted, “and there’ll be no bellyachin’ in it. She’s got her job, and she’s helpin’.”
Calleen looked pleased and all the little injustices against a matron’s rights seemed smoothed over, but the moment that Calleen turned toward the oven to remove one of the pies, Alasdair entered the kitchen, all smiling joviality, waiting to show his willingness and wanting to do something to alleviate Calleen of some of the work before dinner. He marched in, with all his usual good humour and graciousness, expecting to be helpful, eager to be obliging, offering goodwill and cheerfulness to all, but when he approached the oven and said to their benefactor for the evening, “Calleen, is there anything I can do to he—“ he was interrupted by his wife, who covered his mouth with her hand and swiftly drew him to the side.
“Alasdair, we cannot ask to help,” said Carrigh, in an audible whisper.
Alasdair glanced about him and counted several pairs of eyes staring at him in disdainful anticipation. He shrank back behind his wife and said, catching her tone, “Why not?”
“House rules, sire.”
“I don’t mean to contradict you, Carrigh, but that cannot be right. Whenever I go to your mother’s, she always allows me to help. She might resist because I’m king and she doesn’t feel it’s right for me to do it, but I must do it and absolutely would do it to show her how grateful I am to be accepted in her house as a guest.”
“Don’t even think about it, Majesty,” said Calleen, placing the steak pie on the table. “Yer wife didn’t get any quarter and neither will you. I know yer a king and all, and I know yer a Brennin and yer blood’s been the blood of princes since the beginning of Frewyn, but I’m a Donnegal, been a farmer all my life, I enjoy my hard workin’ and won’t have no one take it from me.”
“Never trifle with an old woman’s sense of accomplishment, Alasdair,” said Boudicca. “She is a farmer second and an old woman first, the very worst combination in the world, the one meant for capaciousness and guilt-giving.”
“It is still rude not to help her,” Alasdair persisted. “There must be something that needs to be done.”
“Aye, havin’ a sit down and a cup o’ tea, Majesty,” said Calleen. “That’s what you and yer wife can do. Tris and the small one know what to do. They’re listenin’ to Jaicobh tell stories. You want to do somethin’? Sit with Shea and the young-uns and keep ‘em company.” Calleen made a momentary frown and grew serious. “He lost his girl, a girl what we all loved, taken from him and from us in the worst way. I got my man back and I got my family, I don’t need nothin’ else, but my son lost his girl and his boy lost a mother. Sit with ‘em and spend time with ‘em, and you can help me by bein’ with ‘em.”
Alasdair felt himself a brute for leaving Sheamas to sit by the fire with the children. How monstrous he had been not to consider Sheamas first, and though the good butcher would say nothing, that his mother said anything at all gave his heart a pang. He looked deplorable, said something about Tyfferim guilt, and returned to the sitting room, more impatient to entertain Sheamas with lively conversation than he was to help Calleen set tables and prepare dishes for dinner.
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