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Open Features: Never Eat At A Place Called Mom’s

...Five orders of tripe, she reads as she leafs through the pages, followed by rhubarb and apple custard...

What is happening in Ruby’s gourmet restaurant?

Carmel Fitzgerald tells a tasty tale.

Ruby sits in the motel office, the sunlight streaming from the window. She glances at the clock. Near booking-in time. Fred and Dave arrive. Their yellow overalls show signs of a hard day’s work. At the door bell’s ‘ding’, Ruby looks up and smiles.

‘Hi Fred, Dave, nice to see you again. I’ve put you in the twin share.’ She reaches for the key. Fred’s eyebrows rise.

‘Better lay off the grog tonight, Dave. I don’t sleep through snoring. You know what happened last time we shared.’

Dave takes the room key and the proffered dinner menu and gives Ruby a sly wink. ‘You’re a multi-talented woman, Ruby,’ he says as he glances over the menu. ‘Receptionist as well as a-la-carte chef. You know what I’d appreciate?’

‘Is that a loaded question?’ Ruby adjusts the Venetian blind, re-directing the sun, as Dave’s mouth falls slightly open.

‘I’m wounded. A loaded question indeed.’ Dave feigns hurt. ‘I’ll pretend you never said that. What I would be grateful for is good, old-fashioned meals added to your gourmet dinner menu.’

Fred nods in agreement as he hands the company credit card to Ruby and picks up his menu sheet.

‘I miss home cooking,’ says Fred, I’m on the road so much. Eventually all the meals taste the same. Parma, spag bol, ploughman’s pie, fish and chips and mixed grill. I alternate my order, but to no avail.’

‘You’re easy to please’, says Ruby. ‘If those dishes are your preference, I’ll cook for you any day.’

‘Ah,’ says Fred, ‘but can you cook the old fashioned dishes that my mother used to make?’

‘Are you questioning my cooking skills?’ Ruby has annoyance in her voice. ‘What ancient dishes?’

‘Steak and kidney stew with dumplings floating on top. Lambs fry and bacon, tripe, rabbit stew …’ Fred’s voice trails off as he drools.

‘Yuk!’ Ruby has a horrified look on her face. ‘We grew up with a saying in our family - never eat at a place called mom’s.’

‘… and never play cards with a guy named Doc,’ Dave muses, absentmindedly, recalling his father’s favourite aphorism.

Ruby and Fred ignore Dave’s interruption. ‘That’s terrible,’ says Fred. ‘The best cooking in the world comes from Moms kitchen.’

‘Not my Mom’s,’ says Ruby, ‘and she was better than her Mom!’

‘Well, me, Dave and the rest of the boys, want some fair dinkum home style tucker on our next trip, or we’re changing motels.’ says Fred, delivering the ultimatum with a thrust of his chin.

‘You must be joking!’ Ruby flashes her brown eyes.

‘New menu or new motel,’ says Fred as he eyeballs her.

Dave pats Ruby on the hand. ‘Can’t argue with that. Been coming here for years. You know you’d miss us.’

‘It’s against my better judgement, but …’

**

Shopping day gives Ruby the opportunity to call on her parents. Her grey-haired dad sits in his favourite chair, reading the local paper. She moves to the kitchen, puts the kettle on for a cuppa.

‘Mum, be a dear and give me your braised rabbit recipe.’ Ruby falls about at the “you could have knocked me over with a feather” look from her mum. She quickly follows with, ‘and how do you cook lambs fry and bacon?’

‘But you hate those dishes. You always pulled such horrid faces when you lived at home.’

‘I do, says Ruby. ‘The regular corporate boys reckon what I serve is boring and too up market. They want some home cookin’ or we lose them as clients.’

‘What about dessert,’ says Mum on a roll, ‘do you want some old favourites there too?’ Dad has a coughing fit; they ignore him.

‘Might as well go the whole hog,’ says Ruby. ‘I hope my gourmet reputation doesn’t suffer.’

‘Perhaps you could add a new dimension by updating your menus and include a selection of Meals from Moms Larder. That way you’ll retain your perfected dishes, as well as my oldies. What a bit of fun.’

‘Thanks Mum, they also want stew and dumplings and of all things, tripe, yuk!’

‘Ill go through my recipes and copy them. It’ll give me a chance to try out the new computer.’

§

Three weeks later, Fred and his colleagues including Dave, are back at the check-in desk. Ruby hands them the dinner menu. Fred can hardly believe what he’s reading. He runs his eye over the familiar page, and then catches the words in the attention-grabbing box Meals from Moms Larder.

‘Gee, listen to this Dave.’ He outlines main courses he’d grown up with, ‘and there’s also a list of puddings. Gee, thanks Ruby. You’ve won me.’

‘Me too,’ says Dave. Their three companions nod in silent agreement as they take their room keys and milk.

‘My mother unearthed the recipes, and the graphics for the menu,’ says Ruby. She does some occasional typing for me – keeps her off the streets and gives me a well-earned rest.’

‘Well, you can thank your mother from us,’ says Fred, ‘it truly is a home away from home.’

‘You haven’t tasted a morsel yet,’ says Ruby.

‘But I’m betting you’re cluey enough to have your mother helping in the kitchen, just so’s you get it right.’

Ruby smiles as she gathers their completed menu sheets. They know her well. She watches them walk to their motel to unpack, knowing they’ll be back within the hour, seated in her dining room, forks in the air.

Five orders of tripe, she reads as she leafs through the pages, followed by rhubarb and apple custard.

She wonders if she’ll be able to hide her revulsion as she serves their evening meal.

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