Dinner at Christopher's House

DAD knows how to cook only two things, and my best friend Artie knows that the sight of either of them makes me gag worse than the tuna melt at camp last summer.

Artie called me one night after Mom got the job at the library.

"I just saw your mother," he said. "At the library. She helped me find books for my report on Sweden. Have you got your books yet?"

"No," I said. "I don't have any way to get there. Dad's cooking dinner again."

Artie laughed right out loud. "What is it this time? Let me guess. Meatloaf?"

"Guess again."

"Canned spaghetti!"

"Bingo," I said.

Artie and I both groaned at the same time.

It was weird enough when Mom got her new job at the library. The job itself isn't all that weird. Lots of perfectly normal mothers work in libraries. But my mother? She laughs too loud, for one thing, and libraries are supposed to be quiet. And she never returns her library books on time.

But they hired her anyway, so now on Tuesday and Thursday nights Mom's at the library, helping other kids find experiments for the science fair or pictures for their historic biographies.

Meanwhile, I sit here by myself trying to figure out fractions, and Dad helps my brother Henry with his multiplication tables - after we've all eaten meatloaf or canned spaghetti.

"Well, good luck," Artie said. "I gotta go. Dinner's ready, and we're having burritos."

Burritos! Artie always gets to eat neat stuff like burritos and fried chicken. We get to eat burritos and fried chicken, too, when Mom cooks.

"Come set the table, Christopher," my dad called. He makes Henry and me set the table and wash the dishes. So does Mom.

I set the table, and we ate our canned spaghetti. Then Henry and I argued about whose turn it was to wash the dishes, which we do every night.

It was while I was scrubbing the spaghetti pan that I got the idea. Heck, I can read, right? I can stir soup and heat frozen pizza and cut up onions, right? So I must be able to cook, right? How hard can it be? I decided to give it a shot. What was the worst that could happen? We'd have to go back to meatloaf and canned spaghetti, right? I didn't think Dad would mind.

He didn't. In fact, I think he was a little tired of meatloaf and canned spaghetti himself. So I went shopping with Mom. She didn't mind either.

"Start off easy," she said. "We'll get some things you just have to mix and cook. Then, we'll see where to go from there."

We bought some muffin mix and stuff like hot dogs and canned beans, hamburgers, and rolls. The next Tuesday night I made dinner: hamburgers, canned beets, mashed potatoes from a mix, and muffins.

Oh, it wasn't perfect, but it was better than the usual Mom-less fare. Dad didn't say much. But Henry wasn't too happy.

"The potatoes are lumpy," he complained. "The burgers are hard, and the muffins are blue!"

"They're supposed to be blue. They're blueberry, aren't they?"

"Well, Mom's blueberry muffins are not blue. They just have a little blue stuff in them."

"Um," Dad said, trying to make peace. "Maybe Christopher stirred the muffin mix a little too much and the mashed potatoes not quite enough. But they taste good. I guess the burgers maybe got a little too ... well-done."

"Well-done? Try burned!" said Henry. "I can't even cut it with my knife!" To demonstrate, he stabbed his burger, and it slid off his plate onto the table.

"Henry," Dad sighed. "Pretend your grandmother is here, and remember your manners." Dad always says stuff like "remember your manners." Even when Grandma isn't here.

"Or," I said through clenched teeth, "maybe you'd like to eat meatloaf and canned spaghetti every Tuesday and Thursday for the rest of your life."

Henry kept quiet after that. It was his turn to wash the dishes, and he wasn't very happy when he saw the frying pan I'd used to cook the burgers. But Dad helped him scrub it so things were pretty peaceful in the kitchen.

That was on a Tuesday. That Thursday I branched out into tacos. It really wasn't very hard, because I made them from a kit. Henry thought that was pretty funny, since you make model cars from kits, but even he had to admit they tasted pretty good. After the tacos I moved on to burritos and stuffed baked potatoes. I make a pretty good tossed salad now, too, if I do say so myself. I get to use tomatoes and celery and other stuff I like, but never, never, green peppers.

Henry especially likes my English muffin pizzas and porcupine meatballs with rice. And Dad is so happy about not having to make meatloaf or canned spaghetti that he bought me my own cookbook.

That's where the whole plan backfired. Just yesterday Artie called me at about dinnertime. "Want to shoot some baskets for a while?"

"Yeah, I want to. But I can't. I'm making sloppy Joes for supper."

"But it's not Tuesday or Thursday," he protested.

"Yeah, I know," I groaned. "But I've gotten so good at this that sometimes I have to cook even when Mom's home."

I didn't tell Artie the whole story. I actually don't mind cooking. In fact, it's kind of fun. We haven't had meatloaf or canned spaghetti for months. And besides, whenever I cook, Henry has to do the dishes.

`Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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