the true stories
Over the years, in every station I worked at, there were many occasions on which different people brought treats. Local politicians brought doughnuts, for example. These were very popular. I tried one once and the glob of fat, flour and sugar lodged about eight inches down my esophagus and refused to budge for several days.
I was young, so I tried again on another occasion. I discovered that for some inexplicable reason, chocolate doughnuts sprinkled with coconut had no adverse effects. I ate two. After that, to this day, I have never seen another chocolate doughnut in any box brought into the post office. Maybe the word got out to grab those ones first.
Sometimes people would bring home-made cookies. I remember being given some fresh hot cookies after receiving my first physical chastisement as a child, so I generally declined. The juxtaposition of these two elements was never lost on me over the years. Ass-whipping and delicious chocolate chip cookies. Many years later, I read how this very technique had been studied, perfected and employed by many unscrupulous people.
In time, like Pavlov's unfortunate dog, a person will come to feel a strong loyalty toward their oppressor. It is a type of cognitive dissonance. Reminds me of a four hundred dollar per hour lawyer I hired once. The man had a big bowl of jelly beans on his desk. You could have as many as you wanted. You were encouraged to fill your pockets. Then he gave you the bill.
Anyway, I have always asked, “Did we come here to work or eat?” Some people brought wonderful healthy fruits and these usually disappeared rapidly. You should see how fast a few dozen posties can make a pile of watermelons disappear. Bagel day was a huge event and seemed to carry a special aura of its own. I seen people bring in everything from samosas, figs, Stollen and pomelos.
The corporation has furnished on occasion, hamburgers, smoothies, mineral water and sausages. (Usually right after or right before an unusually heavy work-load.) I sometimes wondered if they had read some of the same titles that I had. In time, most letter-carriers figure out their own personal diet and try to stick to it. Mine became modeled after the draft horse. A bag of oats in the morning before the run and an apple afterward for a treat. Plenty of water and new shoes when required.
After my first year I decided that it was my turn to bring the treats. The stations were smaller then and I only had to plan for thirty people. I racked my brain for culinary ideas. One day, I got my inspiration. I was on an east-side route when I came upon the largest oak tree I had ever seen since visiting an old plantation in Louisiana. This particular tree was spread like a massive umbrella over an empty corner lot.
There are several varieties of oaks and each has a distinct fruiting cycle. This tree was of a type that produces walnut-sized fruit once in every two years. The lot was awash in beautiful acorns. I examined several and found no worm holes. I rolled a smoke and set to work gathering them.
I had my pouch half full when I saw the old woman. She had been squatting and gathering before I got there. Our eyes met and she smiled. I went near and continued gathering acorns. We spoke Cantonglish to one another and I learned that Chinese people fed acorns to their pigs. Then they barbequed the pigs. She learned that native Americans ate acorns and hunted meat. They also tanned the leather for their moccasins with the tannin from the acorns.
Over the next few evenings I skinned the acorns with a good knife and chopped the meat into a rough meal. When this was done I made a screen sieve and set them under cold running water. The pure white tannin came out like milk. It was many hours before the wash was clear. This done, I spread the meal to dry in a sunny window and the next day after work I roasted the meal gently to the point where I could grind it to flour between two stones.
Around a week after I had gathered them, I held in my hand a jelly jar of beige even-grained sifted acorn flour. It was enough to make one loaf of bread. The myth that native peoples didn't eat processed foods was busted. I decided that everything in my bread had to come from trees. Thus, I sweetened it with pure maple syrup, moistened it with olive oil, added walnuts, pecans, filberts and a dash of cacao powder. Some cinnamon bark, nutmeg, fresh ground coffee, water and salt and she was ready for the oven.
I watched through the oven window so as not to bake it a second too long. Everything went perfectly.
I set the loaf to cool, wrapped it up in a cloth and took it to work the next morning. At the table where we punched the time clock by the door, I opened the cloth and sliced the Cherokee biscotti into as many pieces as possible. The first guy who happened by grabbed a slice and took a big bite.
His face became an instant mass of red spots like he'd fallen asleep in a forest and used a fire ant nest for a pillow. He explained that he had a tree-nut allergy. That was the first time I had ever heard of that particular malady. I apologized and he explained that he carried medication. I removed the loaf and shared it with one other gal after giving her a thorough screening for allergies. She liked the bread but said it was “a bit dry.”
Last winter, I figured it was time to try again. I waited til it was good and cold. I fried up a pound of thick-cut bacon just so. I sat each raft on a paper towel and had them all in crispy clean layers in a metal cookie tin. There was a container of maple syrup for dipping and four blocks of fresh corn bread to go with it all. I put strong rubber bands over the box and set out for work.
The mercury was in the minus and the ground was hard as stone. A perfect morning for a truly healthy snack. Out near my bus-stop stood a thirty foot tall cedar. As I waited for the bus it crossed my mind that a variety of urban critters could likely smell this bonanza of pork, wrapped though it was. Being so cold, they would all be quite hungry.
As I smoked and scanned the streets I heard a stirring in the tree about twenty feet up. I couldn't see through the thick foliage but sprigs of dry needles were raining down and something was chuffing. I clutched the bacon box and decided on several escape routes. Where was the damn bus?
The chuffing became two distinct growls and those rose into a crescendo worthy of a Sumatran morality play. Branches began to rain out of the tree. Whatever was in conflict sure sounded serious. I stood with my eyes riveted on the tree. After anxious moments something fell from the green sanctuary and landed on its side on the frozen ground. It was a raccoon of about a dozen pounds and when the poor fellow hit the deck he sounded like a half deflated soccer ball being struck for a corner kick.
I was thinking that he must have broken something, when his opponent raced down the trunk and ripped a big patch of fur out of his back. Then the attacker paused, looked at me and sniffed. This stopped hostilities long enough for the base-jumper to gain his feet and counter-attack. The bigger coon began to chase the smaller one down the street and their snarls melted into the other quiet sounds of early morning ambiance. My bus arrived before the coyotes and I brought the bacon to work.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.