The Gourmets of Grantville
The Ring of Fire that transposed the modern American town of Grantville into the middle of the Thirty Years War forced its inhabitants to face many challenges of a political, military, economic, social and religious nature. But it posed more mundane challenges as well. What do you cook and eat when half the foods you’re used to are no longer available? And how do you keep someone alive when the medicines they depended on are now absent also?
After traveling through time and space from the year 2000 in West Virginia to 1631 in Germany, the town of Grantville faces many challenges. The biggest is finding enough food, medicine, and other supplies to stay alive and healthy while helping their new German neighbors and a constant flow of refugees do the same. Working together, they grow and gather enough food for everyone, but it’s not quite what anyone is used to eating. The Germans view potatoes as animal food, unfit for human consumption, and not all the Grantvillers can accept that even small children drink beer instead of water. With the expert advice of the Grantville Cooking Club, up-time and down-time cooking is combined to create a new cuisine and to jump-start more than a few new restaurants and businesses.
Meanwhile, regular life continues. How do you keep going when you know that your child, or spouse, will die because life-saving medicine or surgery isn’t available in 1631? How do you cope with watching them slowly die from something that was curable in the world you came from? Greg Ferrara, Linda Bartolli, and Phillip Bartolli are forced to face these questions when the Ring of Fire happens weeks before Tina is scheduled for lifesaving surgery that, like her life-saving medication, is no longer available.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year….
As the door slammed shut behind her youngest, Bethel’s smile dimmed. Today was the first day of the school year and Brent hadn’t asked her for a thing. Her mind knew that her ‘kid’ gathering back-to-school supplies, getting his own haircut, picking out a first-day outfit, and even setting an alarm, getting up, eating breakfast (she hoped), and being out the door on time was a good thing. She and Raymond were supposed to want this as parents, and they did. Mostly. But her heart wanted to be needed and it didn’t feel needed. When the kids were little, the first day of school felt like the most wonderful time of the year, exactly like the ad joked. With only one more ‘first day of school’ left for Brent and Bethel Ann already graduated, this year was bittersweet.
Raymond walked up behind her and caught her unawares in a strong hug. “Remember when we were expecting our Bethie? You wanted four kids and I wanted five. We ended up with two great ones. The Gardens are having that big first-day-of-school shindig this morning. Why don’t you call in and tell work you’ll be in after lunch? Meet some new families and visit with old friends. I bet Linda Bartolli will be there. If she is, check and see if they have waterproof boots. Our not-so-little boy spent our last camping trip whining about his hurting.”
She turned to face him, still holding tight, burying her head in his chest, her words barely audible. “You’re right. It’ll do me good. I do remember us wanting more kids and finding out we couldn’t have them. Mom told me that we ‘can’t argue with what God chooses to give us’ and I needed to ‘stop whining about wanting more kids.’ Not exactly a lot of sympathy there.” Bethel suddenly pulled back and looked up at her husband. “Why are you still here? I’m not complaining, but this is the latest I’ve seen you home in the morning since we got stuck here.”
He gently kissed her forehead. “I knew this morning would be hard for you, so I had John open the store. Bethel Ann will be down there too. They can’t help anyone who has a prescription, but they can handle anything else. And right now, you need me more than anyone coming into the pharmacy is likely to need the small amount of medicine we still have in stock. If you put on your coat right now, I can walk partway with you.”
“Let me guess: you’ll be home late again.” Raymond shrugged his agreement.
“I’ll call you at dinner time with an update.”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year….
Linda Bartolli smiled to herself and hummed the tune as she walked toward the Thuringen Gardens. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year, for parents. Whoever came up with that ad a few years back certainly understood how we feel on the first day of school!
And be of good cheer…. Linda lost the thread of the song as her ankle twisted, her foot slipped the rest of the way off the curb, and she crumpled toward a medium size mud puddle.
She landed hard, enough of her weight on her hand to save her tailbone from damage. As her hand stopped sliding and she started picking pebbles out of it, her comments would have blistered the walls of an NCO club full of sergeants. Not such a wonderful time now, is it, Linda? If Father Larry showed up now, that would make it perfect. When a hand appeared in front of her face, for a moment, just one moment, she thought exactly that had happened, but there was no whiff of oil or auto maintenance about the feminine hand, and no priestly attire visible.
“Are you okay? Ich heisse Liesl Pfeiffer. You look pained.”
Linda’s attempted smile looked more like a grimace. “Okay, yeah. Great? No. But no lasting damage to anything but my pride. Nice to meet you. I’m Linda Bartolli, and I’m very relieved you aren’t Father Larry. Having our priest overhear the organist swearing like that would be mortifying! Anyhow, I just saw my kids off to school for the first day of the year and I’m headed to the Gardens for the First Day of School Parent Shindig. I see your stack of first-day paperwork, so we can walk to the Gardens together. I’d rather not arrive with a wet butt from a mud puddle, but it’s the closest place to clean these cuts and scrapes. I guess I’m Mama Wet Butt this year. ”
Trying to piece together everything Linda had said with her limited English, they were halfway to the Gardens before the newcomer answered. “I am Liesl Pfeiffer. We came to Grantville the day after the Croat Raid. They said our children must start the school today. The school is so big! I have worries for them, and much papers I don’t understand.” Liesl weakly waved the papers around, not sure at all what they wanted or how to fill them out, but very much not wanting to lose or damage them and possibly keep her children from the unexpected bounty a Grantville education seemed to provide. She had heard the classrooms were all heated and had seen for herself that there was plumbing, not outhouses.
Like most Germans, and unlike most English, she could do basic reading and writing. The forms seemed to be in German, but many of the word didn’t make sense. What was a ‘grade’ and how should she know which one her child was in? Father, mother, and legal guardian all made sense, but why did they also need an ’emergency contact’? Why so many questions about health and diseases they had lived through?
“Every parent worries on their kids’ first day of school. That’s why the Gardens arranged their little get together, so parents can gather and talk for a bit.” Linda looked around, seeing other down-timers clutching their own paperwork as they made their way to the Gardens. “Look around. You aren’t the only one who needs help with paperwork. Ten to one, they bring in someone to help you all fill it out. By this time next week, you’ll all be old pros! Your kids will be complaining about school lunches and homework, and you’ll be dreading requests for help with homework in no time.”
Liesl looked relieved, right up to the comment about lunches. “They don’t bring food from home? Why complain about lunches? Are they not given enough food? Is food moldy or filled with bugs?”
Linda’s shocked expression surprised Liesl. “Never! They would never allow such things to be fed to children! The kids usually don’t like the taste, and they get tired of the same ten or fifteen choices. You can send lunch in with them, it’s just usually easier to buy the school lunch and it’s fairly cheap.” When she finished, Linda sat, silently waiting, while a clearly shocked Liesl thought this over.
“Truly? They never, ever serve food with any mold or bugs? What do they do with those foods? With so many different meals, the children still complain?”
“Moldy or buggy food is thrown out, or composted, or otherwise gotten rid of.” She didn’t know how to explain kids not liking school food, so she didn’t try.
Liesl decided she needed to wait before she asked any more questions about school. As they walked into the Gardens, she heard a song playing. She switched topics to ask about that instead. “I have a question not about school. What does this music mean? What is this ‘most wonderful time of the year’ they are singing about?”
Linda snickered a bit. “Playing It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year on the first day of school is kind of a joke. It’s a Christmas song. Kids think Christmas is the most wonderful day/time of the year. Parents, especially moms, are happy to see their kids go back to school and stop driving them nuts, so the start of school is ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ for a lot of parents, especially moms.” Linda paused, briefly lost in thought. “It may sound like we are happy to get rid of the kids, but we are just as happy to see them hop off the bus and come home at the end of the day as we are to see them climb aboard and leave in the morning.”
Liesl’s face lit up. “I understand! For us, having the children back in school is wonderful. We aren’t like the English. Our villages have schools for the children, but going to school is hard when the teacher has been killed or taken as a camp follower, the school burnt, and there is no food for anyone but soldiers. I think not having them ‘under feet’ will make doing things easier. But do adults not also like Christmas?”
“Of course we do! But it’s a lot of work. Decorating, shopping for presents, making presents, shopping for food, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, cleaning the house before guests arrive, cutting down the tree, putting up the tree, decorating the tree…. There is so much to do! That can all be fun, too, it’s just a lot to do in one month.”
Grantville had already gotten Liesl so turned around with their talk of tolerating all religions, women being equal to men, and their other sometimes unbelievable ideas that she blurted out without thinking, “You do all those things? Just for the one day? You did not even mention church. Do you not go to church for Christmas?” As she finished speaking, Liesl realized what she had done and how much her foolish questions could cost her and her family, but it was too late to take back what she had said. Never, ever question another person’s faith. Never. Unless the priest tells you to, then you always question it. But only if they tell you to. To make matters worse, another up-timer walked over and gave Linda a hug. She had clearly overheard. Liesl froze, too frightened to say anything more.
Now Linda was embarrassed. “We do, of course we do, but up-time Christmas tends to be more focused on family and friends, with a lot of parties, visits, traveling, and all kinds of things during the whole month of December, starting with our Thanksgiving feast the last Thursday in November. We have services every Sunday of Advent, then on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, of course. The choir and organist prepare special music. As the organist at the Catholic church in town, I guess I think of that part of Christmas as my job, since it is, and not part of what everyone does for Christmas, since not everyone goes to church. The midnight service on Christmas Eve is my favorite of the year. The final song is sung by candlelight. A guitarist accompanies everyone singing ‘Silent Night’ as they leave. It’s beautiful.”
The other woman introduced herself. “Hi! I’m Bethel Little. I saw your expression when you finished talking and saw me, but you don’t need to be afraid to ask those questions here. Most ‘up-timers’ are happy to answer questions, including ones about religion. No one in that stupid 250 Club or Irene Flannery, of course, but don’t pay them any mind. The rest of us don’t! If you’re Catholic, you’ll can’t avoid meeting Mrs. Flannery at St. Mary’s. My family are Christmas-and-Easter Methodists. That means we don’t attend many services other than Christmas and Easter. We usually manage to put our butts in a pew for an extra service or two in December, but we spend a lot more time baking, going to parties, and making Christmas gifts.”
A shadow passed over Bethel’s face. “Well, not making gifts so much anymore. My kids think they are too grown-up and prefer shopping for them now. I miss having little kids.” Liesl found it outrageous that kids said no to their parents and up-timers accepted it, but she kept her mouth shut. Grantville was their town. “I still bake a lot, though. The kids help sometimes, usually when it’s something they want to eat. No one likes coming into the tax office, excuse me ‘revenue collection’, where I work but they get a little happier when I give them a treat. So, I bake.”
Liesl cocked her head, feeling relieved that these strange women weren’t angry. “Some things are the same everywhere. Especially not liking the tax office, but the Christmas traditions also. We have special food, too, for the holiday. Do you have gingerbread? Und Glühwein? Und stollen? Do you like ham or goose for Christmas dinner? What about sauces? I have so many questions about your food now!” Unlike religion, food was a safe topic. No one had been accused of heresy for saying ham was better than goose for Christmas dinner. At least, Liesl hadn’t heard of that happening. Like any sane person, she avoided discussing the Inquisition, so it was possible they had decided eating ham, or goose, or not eating one of them, was a sign of heresy. But she was reasonably sure they hadn’t.
Linda laughed. “It sounds like you may be a real foodie! We have gingerbread cookies but I’m not sure about the rest. I’ve never had time to learn more than basic cooking, despite my family’s prodding, but I’m sure I can find some folks for you to talk shop with, so to speak. Right now, someone is about to speak to us all.”
The forms were explained to the new down-timers while the up-timers met separately to learn about some new adult education classes in German and proposed changes to the schools. Everyone would be learning German, which was kind of obvious, and some of the students had already started Latin clubs in the middle and high schools.
When it finished, Linda found Liesl again. “I have to rush to work soon, but I want to make sure you meet some more parents before I leave. That’s why the Gardens set this up for us! I see a few friendly faces, and a few lost looking faces. Let’s go make some new friends!” Shy outside of the kitchen by nature, Liesl followed in Linda and Bethel’s wake, meeting and greeting faster and more furiously than she had dreamed possible. She felt like she met more people in the next thirty-five minutes than had met in the rest of her life. Several, men and women alike, were avid cooks, all too happy to chat about their favorite recipes. Some went on and on about “barbequing” until they could break away to talk to someone new. One was so persistent in his diatribe on a “pit barbeque” that they faked needing to use the bathroom to escape. By the time Linda left for work, a new Cooking Club had formed itself. The first meeting was the next Monday evening at her house.
After years of pining for her childhood, when food wasn’t scarce and the village wasn’t poor or small, Liesl started to believe that maybe, just maybe, things were getting better. Maybe the wonderful fresh vegetables and herbs of the last month weren’t such a brief pleasure. She could only hope to try this wondrous “barbeque” herself.
Even after they knew they were stuck in 1631, Tina had allowed herself to hope for a miracle, to hope that somehow they could still help her. Still fix her heart. But there weren’t any cardiothoracic surgeons in 1631. There wasn’t even a real hospital. Sure, Grantville was building one, but that wasn’t the same thing. Since no up-time cardiothoracic surgeon (or their tools) came through the Ring of Fire, the new hospital couldn’t possibly have them. She needed to face the truth, and to do that, she had to be somewhere that felt totally, completely, safe. There was one place above all others that fit the bill, and so she was here, in the last pew, while her mom practiced for St. Mary’s Sunday mass.
The familiar smell, the smooth wooden pew, the padded kneeler she idly flipped up and down with her feet. She smiled remembering crawling under the pews as a little girl, hiding while Brent tried to find her, while her mom practiced. Organ music was the background to her childhood. The feel of it sunk so deeply into her bones that vibrations from organ music soothed her at a primal level. So, she sat there, allowing the familiar sight of her mom practicing, repeating certain passages over and over until she had them perfect, light slanting in through the windows, to be the balm for her soul that they had always been.
After half an hour, her mom closed and locked the organ, then laid aside the boys tap shoes, sans taps, she always wore at the organ and bent to gather her music. Tina walked up to the organ and surprised Linda with a hug. “Hey kiddo! What are you doing here? Were you listening to me practice like you used to?”
Tina nodded, then closed her eyes briefly before telling her mom the bad news. “I saw the doctor today. They can’t do anything for me. The short version is that I will keep feeling worse and being able to do less over the next few years, until one day I die. Greg went to the appointment with me, so he knows, but I needed some time to myself to think. This is when you always practiced, before work for you but after we left for school. It’s nice to know some things haven’t changed, even after the Ring of Fire ‘changed everything’. I swear organ music was the first thing I heard in utero and that’s why it’s so calming for me!” Tina smiled at her mom, who had already heard that line more than a few times. “Seriously, I feel better now than I did when I came in. Hearing you play, hearing you practice, is a happy place for me.”
Linda smiled at her daughter. “It doesn’t bother you when I keep playing the same bit over and over to get it right?”
“It does not. Not even a little. It’s part of the process. Soothing in its own way. It would feel like a private concert if you just went through all the pieces without trying to fix anything, and I like seeing you practice. Anyone can see a concert. Hardly anyone sees rehearsals. When I am waiting for you in heaven, that is the picture of you I will hold in my heart: practicing the organ, completely focused on the music until nothing else exists around you.” Linda’s heart broke hearing her daughter talk about looking down at her from heaven at her mom instead of the other way around. “Not playing for services, not cooking dinner. Practicing, focused on making the music as perfect as you can before anyone else hears you play it. In that moment, for you, there is nothing beyond you and the music you are making.”
Linda’s daughter was a grown woman with her own husband and children. “One more song, and then I will walk you back to your house.” She sat down at the piano and played their special song, the one she had played for Tina since she was a baby. As they walked down the front steps to the street, Linda hugged Tina and quietly said, “Love you, baby girl. You tell me what you need. Your dad and I will help you, Greg, and the kids get through this. You may be grown and a mama yourself, but you will always be my baby girl.” For once, Tina simply hugged her back and didn’t fuss over being called her baby girl.
Raymond dropped heavily down onto the kitchen chair. It was a heavy-duty model because he had destroyed three other, lesser chairs before Bethel realized he was never going to stop dropping down like that at the end of a long day. “I think we finally have it worked out. Vince and Lori were left up-time since they live out of town. The same with her folks. Her half-brothers Buck and Barry came through with their families, but they aren’t any kin of Vince. Did you know he made her sign a pre-nup over the pharmacy? Can’t blame him with that family of hers. We worked hard to keep this place running after we reopened it. He had a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in it before he ever met her. So, no claims from Lori’s side.
“Both Vince’s parents stayed up-time with him, and no one else left living on his ma’s side. That leaves his dad’s side. His first cousin John has the best claim. John’s dad is the only one of Vince’s aunts and uncles to come through, and he renounced his claim because he’s ‘too old to run a business’. In the whole Moss family, only those two came through.
“Now that he’s been working with me for a few months, and we confirmed that no one else has a claim for Vince’s half of the pharmacy, John is excited about becoming a pharmacist. He told me that him and his dad talked. They want me to commit to spending two years teaching John how to be a pharmacist and run the store. When that’s done, they decided the right repayment is for me to own the land and the building, once it’s done. We’ll stay fifty-fifty partners in the business. I’ll just own the land and building, nothing inside it. Even with vacancy rates having gone down so much in the last six months, Grantville real estate isn’t exactly Manhattan real estate, and I’m going to have to put in a lot of hours to run the store, train John, learn down-time pharmaceuticals, and work the pharmacy. I’m not sure it’s a fair deal for that much time and work. What do you think, Bethel?”
“Take the deal. We can’t let the store close, too many people need it, and you can’t run it by yourself. It’s already been a strain and it’s only been a few months. It’ll just get worse. Honestly, you said it yourself, he already owns half. He doesn’t have to give you anything for training him. He could sit there, doing nothing, and collect money. But he’s doing the right thing and training to be a pharmacist like his uncle and you. Besides, what else will they pay you with? Money from John’s 401K? It’s a gift horse. Stop poking around in its mouth!” Bethel was genuinely happy about the deal. The house was lonely with Brent at school or with his friends, and Bethel Ann and Raymond at the pharmacy all the time. She hoped to see Raymond and Bethel Ann home a bit more.
“Liesl! What a pleasure! What brings you into ‘Bartolli’s Surplus and Outdoor Supplies’ today?” Linda and Liesl saw each other in passing at church most weeks and both were founding members and on-air personalities for the new Grantville Cooking Club and TV show. A few members still wanted to rename it the Grantville Gourmets, which sounded fancy and might scare off less-experienced cooks. Most members agreed that was exactly what they did not want to do. Now that they had a TV show named ‘Grantville Cooking Club’, the point had become moot. Even if they officially changed the name, everyone would know them as the Grantville Cooking Club.
“You missed our last meeting! A few children came home talking about ‘scouts’ and wanting to go camping with them. This led to talking about cooking over campfires outside. Then one of the up-timer women, I forget her name, but she promised to teach us how to make flaky pie crusts, said your store carries things just for cooking over fires.” Liesl looked down at a note. “She said to ask for a ‘pie iron’, a ‘Dutch oven’, and ‘hot dog sticks’. Do you still have any of these?”
“That is right up my alley! Yep, we’ve got ’em, but not a ton. You don’t need hot dog sticks, otherwise known as a metal stick with a handle. Nothing fancier than that. You poke the end through a hot dog, marshmallow, or whatever and hold it over the fire. Sticks work just as well, but you have to clean and whittle them first so, up-time, people would buy hot dog sticks. Well, that and they worried that regular sticks were unsanitary. We are down to our last two pie irons here, but Phil and I must have a dozen squirreled away in our house. More than we need, at any rate. Now that you mention it, I should find a blacksmith to make more that we can sell.” Linda grabbed a notepad from the counter and made a note to herself. “Dutch ovens, now, are something you probably already have, or something close to it. Phil already found someone out of Erfurt to sell those to us. Come with me and I’ll show you.”
A half hour later, they had gone through all the camp cooking gadgets on the shelves and were elbow-deep in a box of old stock and random parts in the back. Linda rocked back on her heels, holding an old mess kit in her hands. “I haven’t seen one of these in years, not in a store anyway. Here, let me show you.” She then proceeded to demonstrate that the mess kit included a small pot/bowl with a lid, frying pan with a folding handle, plate, and cup, along with a set of utensils that click together, all held in a closely fit cloth bag with a carry strap for easy transport.
Liesl picked up the pieces, examining them closely. “A tinsmith could make these. Many will buy them, if they are cheap. Walking, riding a horse, or in a cart, there is never enough space. This,” she flipped the little set in the air and caught it, “would do nicely, and it doesn’t even weigh much. How much for this one?” After a short haggle, both women were happy.
“If you find a tinsmith to make them, we’ll buy them, Liesl. In fact, if you are willing to find a tinsmith and we make a business deal, you can have that genuine up-time mess kit as a finder’s fee for helping us out. How do you know so much about what a tinsmith does? Was your father one?”
She grinned. “I will talk to my Andres about this before I agree to a deal. I will help you, but we need more time to set terms. Vatti is a butcher. The tinsmith’s apprentice was cute boy. I spent too much time watching him work. Vatti spent too much time trying to make me stop. Then the apprentice became a journeyman and journeyed somewhere else.” She got a sad look. “I heard his wife gave him a fine son their first year of marriage.” After a moment she brightened again. “My Andres is a fine man, and we have strong boys. Not blacksmith strong, but strong for not-blacksmiths. Andres is a fine husband.”
Linda couldn’t help but laugh at that. “I get that. I know a lot of heavy metal music thanks to my high school crush. Playing some for you will be easier than trying to explain what heavy metal is, but he played in a ‘garage band’ and was sure he’d be a rock star someday. He ended up working on a road crew doing construction outside Fairmont. Phil was a huge upgrade. Shoot! I totally forgot when you came in. I promised Phil I would start decorating the place for Christmas. I gotta go do that now.”
“Christmas? In November?”
“Yeah, I know. It’s early. All the stores started early up-time. It could be irritating, but this year, Phil and I need something happy and festive to distract us. A little bit of home.” Linda shrugged. “We aren’t using the Christmas lights, but the decorations will still…. Never mind. You’ll see soon enough.” Linda waved good-bye to Liesl before turning and rushing upstairs to the main storeroom to start pulling out Christmas decorations.
A few minutes later, Linda heard a tentative tapping that pushed the door open. Liesl walked in, already talking. “The Cooking Club ladies will be angry if I don’t….” Seeing Linda puddled on the floor, tears streaming down her face, an open wooden box on the floor in front of her. Liesl stopped, unsure how to continue.
Linda’s heartbreak was written clearly across every inch of her. “It’s my daughter. For you, we have brought medicine and knowledge that saves lives. For us, we have lost medicine and knowledge that saves lives. One of those lives is my daughter’s. She is a diabetic with a heart problem. Up-time, she was a nurse with medicine and surgery scheduled to repair her heart. Now?” She shrugged, tears still streaming down her cheeks. “The worst thing for a parent is to out-live their child. Up-time, it was rare and now I have to face the fact that Phil and I will bury Tina in the next few years. Already, she can do less work than she did when we got here now that her heart and diabetes medicine is gone.”
Liesl hesitated a moment, then lowered herself next to Linda and engulfed her in a fierce hug. “My second son was Johan, born a year after Valentin. He was such a rosy, gentle baby, but never happy. Not one day. He cried, every day, as if he hurt. From the moment he was born, he cried in pain, but there was no injury. He cried himself to sleep. He cried when he woke. He cried when he pooped, and he cried when we cleaned him. The only time he didn’t cry was while he nursed, but he would start again when he finished, and even while he nursed, his little face was crinkled like he hurt.” For a few minutes, her tears joined Linda’s as each wept for the pain of her own child. “He lived ten days. We don’t know why the Lord took him from us so soon, or why He let our child be in pain for whole his short life, but burying him still hurt. The only comfort we have is that he was baptized and will meet us in heaven.”
“Thank you.” Linda’s tears were slowing now. “Sometimes it just hits me so hard and can feel so lonely, like seeing that box of salt dough ornaments she made for the store when she was little. Before, everything ‘wrong’ with Tina was manageable and she had a lot of years ahead of her. Now those things will take her from us.” Linda took a deep breath. “Enough of this. I am going to decorate for Christmas! It’s much harder to be sad looking at Christmas decorations! You can tell the Cooking Club I will be at the next meeting with pie irons.”
Liesl helped carry a few boxes downstairs, to be sure her new friend was ‘okay’ before leaving. Seeing all those boxes of Christmas decorations in the storeroom confirmed what most of the Germans suspected: up-timers are verrückt.
First Sunday in Advent, 1631
“With so many decorations in your house, why do up-timers not have an Advent wreath in your house like the church has?” Anna Maria Schneider verh. Schulte asked Irene Flannery as they walked out the door after mass. Unlike a lot of people, she wasn’t afraid of the legendarily cranky old lady. She had known a lot of cranky old ladies, and Irene Flannery, at least, was unarmed.
“I don’t know, but I have never seen one in a home. Perhaps if more people did have Advent wreaths in their homes, then some people might think more about the baby Jesus and less about the Santa Claus.” Irene sniffed her disdain for those people, which included almost everyone except herself and maybe (possibly) Father Mazzare. “Can you make one yourself? And could you teach other people how to make one?” When a bemused Anna Maria nodded yes to both, Mrs. Flannery propelled her toward their priest. “Father, this young woman would like to teach a class on making an advent wreath for your home.”
Seeing Anna Maria’s shocked, deer-in-the-headlights expression, and knowing Irene Flannery quite well, the good father took a moment to frame his reply. “That’s a splendid idea, Mrs. Flannery! Of course, you know how busy we are trying to help the refugees with their housing and other needs, so I don’t think we could have a class here at St. Mary’s this year. Frau Schneider, what do you think about having a small class in Mrs. Flannery’s house, since it was her idea? I know the old Reed house where you live is quite a bit more crowded than Mrs. Flannery’s house, at the moment. If your class goes well, you can move it here next year and teach a larger group or even several groups, if you like.” Father Larry knew full well that Irene Flannery barely let people in her house when something absolutely needed an emergency repair right now. They were all still amazed that having refugees move in the previous summer hadn’t given her a literal stroke. Allowing a group of unknown women in for a crafting class simply would not happen.
Anna Maria’s relief was palpable when Mrs. Flannery sniffed again, then turned and left, muttering to herself as she walked away, but she kept thinking about Mrs. Flannery’s suggestion all afternoon. Before dinner, she spoke to Krystal since they were living in what was effectively her house. At dinner, she spoke to everyone in the house. “Frau Flannery suggested I teach a class on making an Advent wreath. I have decided I will do this. I spoke to Krystal and I will have the class here, at the dining table.”
Everyone started talking at once, asking for more details and worrying how they might be affected. Anna Maria’s husband Heinrich finally shushed everyone else and started asking his questions. When will the classes be? (Mid-morning on Saturday, possibly on weekday evenings after dinner or mid-morning, if enough women are interested to do more classes.) Will any of them be at mealtimes? (Semi-patient pause while he mentally reviewed the previous answer.) Will people pay to take the class? (For the first one while she’s still learning what to do, only enough to cover any costs, which there shouldn’t be any of. After that, a small fee per student.) Will it cost the family anything? (No, it should make money.)
Their daughter Agatha asked the last, and possibly biggest, question. “Why are you doing this, Mutti?”
None of them were sure what to expect, but Anna Maria’s answer wasn’t it. “I’m not entirely sure. After my conversation with Frau Flannery and Father Mazzare this morning, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I have heard up-timer women mention ‘crafting’ as a thing they miss. The word doesn’t make much sense the way they use it, but it seems to mean they like to make small decorative items for themselves or their house, or sometimes bigger things like clothing. If I can find a way to teach them ‘crafting ‘of down-time things, I can perhaps make a small business. If I can find a way to bring this up-time crafting craze to down-timers, then I can perhaps make a large business.”
Heinrich gave his wife a considering look. “Have these up-timers convinced you that every woman needs to own a business? Where do the rest of us fit into your future business empire?”
“Don’t you worry, husband! This would take all of us! You, most of all, can make many things to sell them, if you wanted, like sewing hoops. Or you could teach men man-crafting things like simple woodworking since even the Guilds don’t bother people too much about what they make for their own personal use, if they don’t try to sell anything. But that is for later. For now, I will teach one class, for free, to see if women have interest, and to see if I can teach. If I cannot teach, then we would need to hire a teacher and we cannot pay a teacher, so that would be an end to it.”
Sam had been sitting quietly, listening to them. “You are going to be so rich.” Seeing the down-timers confusion, he continued, “Seriously, rich. My mom liked to knit. She filled the spare bedroom closet with nothing but yarn waiting for the perfect project, and more pattern books than I care to remember. Some of that yarn waited for years, then she found ‘the right thing’ to use it for. Anyone who got into crafting seemed to have at least one closet full of stuff for their preferred craft, and a bunch of pattern books, and they were always buying more.” The down-timers looked skeptical at the thought of an entire closet of perfectly good yarn just sitting there, unused, for years, but everyone knew up-timers were verrückt.
Krystal chimed in, “He’s totally right. Most called it their ‘stash’. But since his mom had to work all the time, she couldn’t join any clubs. My nana got my mom to join a scrapbooking club. You do not want to know how much stuff scrapbookers collected, and how weird those little things could be. Nana had this giant collection of shaped paper punches, little gadgets that made holes a certain shape in pieces of paper to make them fancier. Back to the point, if you have all the materials and are ready to go into business when the worst worries of war, famine, and our safety are over, he’s right. You are going to be so rich.”
The next morning, Anna Maria stopped in at the rectory and left word that she would teach up to four women how to make wreaths, if she could get one more to be her assistant. They could fit six people at the dining table in the Reed house. To everyone’s surprise, Mrs. Flannery insisted on assisting her. Anna Maria had never taught a class before, but Mrs. Flannery had decades of teaching experience and took it upon herself to teach her how to be a teacher. Despite her curmudgeonly exterior (and interior), she was quite skilled at helping young teachers become confident and competent in the classroom, and not only because it was a legitimate excuse for bossing them around. This was teaching crafts, but Mrs. Flannery was a seamstress and teaching was very much in what passed for a happy place for her, doubly so when teaching crafts. She was determined to make Anna Maria a competent teacher whether teaching was a happy place for her or not.
By the end of the first wreath-making class, each of Anna Maria’s students had an Advent wreath and Anna Maria was determined to make this into a business, when things calmed down enough. Frau Flannery was as prickly as everyone said, but she was also an experienced teacher and Anna Maria could handle prickly easily enough. The more she thought about the ribbon wreath on the Reed’s front door, the tree skirt, the stockings, and all the other homemade decorations she had seen in the houses, the more excited she became about making this a business. She managed to fit in four more Advent wreath-making classes before Christmas. After the struggles of the war years and a lifetime doing jobs they didn’t enjoy, the profits from a job Anna Maria genuinely enjoyed made her and Heinrich both extremely happy.
Until things settled down enough that women had time for crafting classes, Anna Maria would learn as much as she could of up-time crafts. As soon as there was a Kristkindlmarkt in Grantville, she would start selling her wares and getting people excited to take her classes.
Gisela finished the broadcast. “Thank you for joining us again this week! We hope everyone enjoyed learning how to make ‘salt dough ornaments’ for your house and your tree. If you want to see some genuine up-time salt-dough ornaments, the ones made by the owners of ‘Bartolli’s Surplus and Outdoor Supplies’ were the inspiration for this episode. Next week, we will make mashed potatoes and gravy. The last TV show of the Grantville Cooking Club for 1631 will be making Glüwein for the up-timers in our audience. Remember, there won’t be a new show between Christmas and New Year’s Eve! We will be home enjoying our families and hope you will be enjoying yours!”
Janice held out her hand in a ‘hold’ sign, then said, “And you’re off the air. Your show is fantastic. I hear ‘The Cooking Club Show’ is must-see TV for many women, and more than a few men. We have a several gents who would like to share their barbeque skills in a future episode, presumably in the spring so no one gets frostbite filming outside.”
“Thank you. I don’t know why it would need to be filmed outside, but I would also prefer to wait until warmer weather if something must be filmed outside. Central heating is a good thing. A very, very good thing.”
“Ah, well, that isn’t the only reason I’m here.” Janice cleared her throat. “Lyle Kindred of The Grantville Times has been talking to us. He needs some regular features for his paper since some of the old standards like sports coverage are gone. He’d like to add a weekly feature of the Grantville Cooking Club recipes.” Gisela and Tina were the featured presenters that day. Liesl was there to help, and Linda was there moming her daughter, for which Tina felt almost equal amounts of irritation and thankfulness. “Thoughts? Ideas? Feelings? Anything at all?”
Both down-timers looked lost at the idea. Since the words of women were rarely published in any form, much less sought out to be published, they had never in their wildest dreams considered such a thing. Having pushed herself physically to tape the episode, Tina was tuckered, leaving Linda to answer. “The Club will need to talk about it, but I think a regular newspaper column is a fabulous idea. Does Lyle just want recipes or is he looking for a bit of description, an introductory paragraph or two? Does he also want the segments on things like best uses for a microwave?”
Janice threw up her hands in a clear “stop!” motion. “I’m only the messenger! It sounds like you are generally willing. One of you should stop by the Times or call and meet with Lyle to iron out the details.”
Christmas Day 1631
With the speechifying and sermonizing done, the whole Reed clan headed from the high school football field toward the cafeteria. Grannie B broke their silence. “That Reverend Jones spoke so well it almost made me wish I’d gone to church with you a few more times these last years, Eli. Didn’t know the Methodists had such powerful speakers. ‘Course, my parents would roll over in their graves if I had gone. But I like what he said just now.”
Sam looked thoughtful. “What did you think of Father Mazzare’s sermon, Grannie B?”
Looking embarrassed, she admitted the truth. “I couldn’t understand most of what he said. A few words here and there, but I never learned Latin. Before Vatican II, I followed along with the words but didn’t understand most of ’em. That was a long time ago, even to an old coot like your great-grandma!” That got the expected chuckles.
Sam nodded. “Yeah, that’s about how I did. I almost understood a few sentences, but by the time I worked out one section, Father Mazzare had moved on far enough that I couldn’t understand his speech.”
Grandpa Eli looked more astonished than Grannie B. “When did you learn Latin, boy?”
“They have classes at the high school now. Not everyone is studying Latin, but I wanted to learn it up-time to help with science classes, if I ever went to college. When I found out they were planning classes here and now, I got on the list early to make sure I got one of the spots. I have friends who speak fluently so they are helping me study.” Embarrassed by the attention, he changed the subject back to the Christmas sermons they had just heard. “Your priest seemed to do a good job, Grannie B. What do you think if I come to mass with you a few times and you come to church with me a few times? That way things will even out with your parents, and I can work on my Latin!”
Watching the kids getting antsier with every passing minute, Grandpa Eli recognized the problem. “You youngsters run ahead and find your friends while the rest of us follow at a more sedate pace.” He had barely finished when they zoomed off.
Bethel watched them run ahead. “It makes me wonder a bit. All those years with all that worry about gifts and Santa and look at them this year. No Santa, not many gifts, and they are still having a grand time.”
Mike Stearns surprised them when he spoke. “Nothing like being stalked by the horsemen of the apocalypse, or seeing them in the general area, to make folks appreciate an old-fashioned church-focused Christmas. What? You think just because I got elected, I don’t talk to regular folks anymore?”
Grannie B recovered herself first. “Michael Stearns, that was a lovely program. Wish I could’ve understood the first two speaking, but Reverend Jones’ sermon was one to reprint and keep a copy of.”
Rebecca Abrabanel spoke. “I can’t do the Rabbi’s sermon justice so I won’t try, but part of the first sermon was thanking God for providing Juden with a safe place where we can live and worship freely. This is truly as much a miracle for us as the actual Ring of Fire, and as hard to believe as the other miracles we see every day, living here.” No one could add anything to that.
After a minute of silent walking, Mike broke the silence. “I want to get to the cafeteria before the kids eat all the potato chips, so you’ll excuse us if Rebecca and I speed up a bit. Enjoy the party!”
As they walked away, Grannie B’s eyes lit up. “Potato chips? Truly? Your Grandpa Eli and I heard people talking about them the last few days but they’re old folks like us. I thought that was just a rumor.”
They joined the cafeteria line right behind Linda Bartolli and her family. “The choices are plain or plain. Salted, of course, but plain nonetheless.” They moved forward a few steps. “It looks like down-timers are enjoying them. What do you think about having the Cooking Club get the recipe and experiment with flavoring? Phil likes sour cream and onion, but I prefer barbeque. Well, my actual favorites are some specialty chips ones from Baltimore with a crab on the package. They don’t taste like crab, but we don’t have whatever the seasoning was, so I’m going to lobby for barbeque flavored chips. If I can get the Cooking Club to agree to try.”
Janice Ambler was passing by and heard the comments. “I support this! I’m a huge fan of barbeque myself. There aren’t many potatoes available, though, so you may have to stick to making one small batch. Knowing how few potatoes we have, and how zealously Willie Ray Hudson is guarding them as seed potatoes, I would say there is zero chance of you getting any for cooking, but a segment showing how to make potato chips at home might push some farmers into the ‘willing to plant ’em’ category. Since Willie Ray says we need every farmer we can get planting potatoes, that may convince him to let you have a few. Grantville has a lot of mouths to feed these days. Giving those kids all the potatoes they needed to make enough chips for everyone at the Christmas party practically put Willie Ray in physical pain. That means you shouldn’t plan to make anything else with potatoes before the first batch comes out of the ground, possibly even the second. Make sure that’s clear to everyone: we have to grow them before they can eat them. Then introduce mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving.”