Just breakfast

BREAKFAST is the subject. The TV quiz-man asked whether most people skip breakfast, and the talent said yes. But the answer is no, and we can all rest more easily now that's settled. Years ago, when I wandered the streets of our little town to gather the Mr.-and-Mrs. gossip items that made our weekly paper profitable, I worked up a fun piece about favorite foods. ``What is your favorite food?'' I'd ask at random, and after I got enough answers I had my ``piece.'' And Ben Furbish, who kept the hardware store, answered me without hesitation. ``Breakfast!'' he said. That wasn't quite what I was after, as most folks were saying lamb stew and buckwheat pancakes and fiddlehead greens and things like that, and Phil Wilder had even gone for ``roast beef and Yorkshire pudding!''

``Yorkshire pudding'' I quoted, ``is batter enriched with the juices of a roasted joint.''

``That's right,'' said Phil, ``and I haven't had any in a long time.''

But simple ``breakfast'' was Mr. Furbish's answer, and when I tried to draw him out he said, ``No - that's it. Just breakfast.''

Waffles, sausages, scrambled eggs? ``I don't care what it is,'' Mr. Furbish persisted, ``just so long as it's breakfast.''

Twenty-five years ago the Great Northern Paper Company still used horses in its woodland operations at Scott Brook Lumber Camp. The Scott Brook operation ceased some seasons back, and horses have long since given way to mechanical harvesting. And 25 years ago Bill and I began going into that wilderness country in far-up Maine for our annual ``Grandfathers' Retreat,'' which means we had a week together for presumptive fishing and the concomitant contemplative recreation. We passed over company roads and through the Scott Brook Camp compound to reach our sylvan delights. Del Bates, the camp clerk, would have seen us coming from the Beanpot Pond direction, and would descend to bark at us, ``Welcome, gentlemen! Welcome to Scott Brook!'' Then he would give us the keys to the camp we'd use and we'd drive on 10 miles to use it. In those days Scott Brook had some 150 men in the crew - Del being, for the most part, the only Yankee. All the others would be French-speaking Canadians, and one of those was the hostler.

So this year now in focus Del told us to stop for breakfast on our way out on the next Sunday morning, and Bill and I agreed. We broke camp soon after sunrise, packed the pickup truck, and pulled up in front of the Scott Brook cookshack right on the dot. Del greeted us with his, ``Just in time, gentlemen, just in time!'' He led us into the cookshack with the purposeful strides customary in that vicinity at that time, and we found the place empty except for the hostler and ourselves.

All the rest of the crew had gone back to Canada at Friday noontime for the long weekend, but Del had to stay to keep his eye on the Great Northern property and the hostler had to stay to take care of the horses. On weekends, the hostler became cook.

I'm not sure today, but I think the hostler's name was Pelletier. It doesn't matter, because I always called him M'sieu Chevalier. This is a small jest in French, and the hostler relished it. You can find the same pun in the Latin of J. Caesar's ``Commentaries'' if you know where to look - Caesar promised his soldiers they would be ``knights,'' and he kept his word; they became hostlers.

On an ordinary Sunday, Del and M. Chevalier breakfasted together in silence - the one knew no English (neither did his horse), and Del knew only two words of French, which were bon and no-bon. But Del had told the hostler that this Sunday he would have two guests for breakfast, a conversation carried on by holding up two fingers and then sticking them in his mouth.

This was a challenge, so after taking care of the horses at sunrise on Sunday morning, the hostler had gone into the shower camp in his barn clothes and had come out on the cookshack side as a chef. We found him at the big hotel-size range in white apron and cook's bonnet, and Del said he had been bustling around for an hour, whereas he could get breakfast for just Del and himself in three minutes. Bill and I were incentive.

M. Chevalier was a knight of the cordon bleu, an Oscar in his Waldorf, a Delmonico at home. He bowed as we came in, called bonjour, and moved the pork chops to a platter. To his left was the walk-in freezer-fridge with stores for 150 men.

The Great Northern Paper Company's commissary department knows not the word ``stint'' and buys wholesale by the carload. M.Chevalier even had a birthday-like cake with pink icing that said, ``Au revoir, Bill et Jean, `a bient^ot!'' The steaks were delicious, and the broiled salmon amazing. That was the day Bill and I skipped lunch and supper.

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