ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
The ladies didn’t want to sit on logs. And, they found the straw bales were messy whether they wore jeans or dresses.
To top it off, O.B. Goodfellow was taciturn. Somewhere in the old attorney was the light of the Lord, but it seemed to be on standby blackout.
Poor Pastor Mack Jackey. All he had really ever wanted was an indoor-outdoor hot dogs and hamburgers cookout with basket salad and dessert buffet. Instead, the ladies were unhandy, and as for the rest of the men, they were average.
The heart’s desire of the men was to talk of baseball, football, basketball, futures markets, crops, weather and business. They pretended everything for the evening was safely in the hands of the ladies. They certainly didn’t want Pastor Jackey talking to them about the fundamentals of life outside the service if they could put their souls on hold.
The pastor was a victim of suggesting something himself instead of letting it come from the congregation.
All during the preparations for the evening picnic, the women either pursed their lips or looked over their glasses at the pastor muttering to each other when he walked by.
The pastor was at his lowest ebb, wallowing in the sorrow of a cookout gone wrong when that moment of inspiration came, that bolt out of the blue that has to be the serendipity of God flowing down to its rightful seepage between the brain cells.
“Everybody, listen!” he called out. “Ladies, gentlemen-I need your attention here while we’re preparing everything for our festivities. I feel the need to liven things up. Ladies, we are going to have a salad contest only for you. I, myself, and I will nominate my good friend and our brother here, O.B. Goodfellow to help me. We two we will judge the salads just prior to the evening meal.
“Sorry fellows, but we’re going to leave this contest just to the ladies. I know the evening meal was to begin at 6 p.m. But we’re going to jump it ahead to 7 just for this event, and I will forgo the talk I planned to give you afterward so everybody still gets home on time.
“This way, you ladies all have an extra hour to go get ingredients or go home to prepare your own special salad.
“Now, O.B. and I will only take a couple of bites of each salad to make our call, so there will be plenty left for everybody to enjoy. And the winner-ladies wait until you hear this. O.B. has graciously consented to join me in giving the winner a dinner for two at the Garden Club Tulip Dinery in the city. So, if you’re ready for this surprise contest, everybody, let’s get going. You men cook the meat while the ladies get their prize-winners ready.”
It was working, just like that. The women were twittering and talking to each other, and hurrying their husbands to their stations just as though a flock of birds had been turned loose in the room at nesting time. And, they were smiling at him. Pastor Mack Jackey could not have been more pleased with himself or his mentor up above.
“Thank you, Lord, thank you,” he whispered.
But then he turned to face O.B. Goodfellow, whose lips were drawn out in a half-frown that nearly split his round head, which was glowing red from the blood pumping to his bald dome.
O.B.’s wife, Agnes, was pulling at his sleeve, saying, “I’ll just run home with the car for a moment, dear. You stay here, and enjoy.”
But O.B. paid her little attention because he was glowering at the pastor.
“O.B., what’s wrong?” asked Pastor Jackey. “Look how happy all the ladies are, just all of a sudden like, and the men are happier too because the women are. Surely you can see the salad contest is a great inspiration. I didn’t think you’d mind me using your name as a contributor and a judge for the contest. You’re usually a pretty good sport to help me. I’ll pay all of the money for the prize if that’s the problem.”
“No, that’s not the problem, Pastor,” O.B. snarled while clicking his tongue back and forth unhappily. “The problem is red beans swimming all around in that god-awful sauce just waiting on me. Red bean salad is the problem. As an attorney, I promise you I can exercise great control over my life functions, and still appear in great dignity and propriety before the mass of beings.
“I’ve many times held a small bladder in check before the best judges this county has mustered. But this a problem, red bean salad. Lola Werthwaite might have brought her red bean salad, but now she is sure to.”
“Surely that can’t be too bad?”
“Pastor, the Werthwaites are among my better clients. I usually can avoid the red bean salad if it turns up. But you have fixed me. I shall have to eat two bites in front of everybody and appear to enjoy them while that mousey-brown-haired Lola looks at me with delight through her thick spectacles. It will take all of the aplomb I can master not to projectile puke it down the front of her burgundy sweater. I do like burgundy, so I noticed that, Pastor.”
“I shall do all I can to support you spiritually.”
“Pastor, she crushes part of the red beans down to float bits of their meat in a thick sauce of vinegar and mayonnaise. Then she adds whole beans to it with chopped celery and chopped pickles.”
“Well, the way you say it doesn’t sound too good. I can feel my own stomach leaping just a little.”
“That isn’t the half of it, Reverend. She started getting creative with it one year changing the sweet pickles to dill pickles. Everyone said they liked it, so the next year she ventured a little further with it putting in both dill pickles and sweet pickles and chopped black olives.”
“I guess that could be a little interesting,” the pastor said hesitantly.
“Then, the year after that, she decided to double the celery content, add chopped onions, chopped broccoli, and chopped cauliflower while keeping the sum total of all other ingredients.”
“You don’t say. Lord have mercy.”
“He better have it, Reverend, because it’s hard telling what she’ll add to the red bean concoction this year, all floating around together there-oh, I forgot to say she decided to mix in the largest brown kidney beans with the red beans she could find. It extended the torture-or flavor as she puts it.”
“Let’s have some coffee to prepare together, O.B. A good acidy stomach might help.”
“No, Pastor, I’ll pass on that. I have a Western novel I’m down to the last two chapters on in my left coat pocket and another one ready to begin in the other coat pocket.
“I’m past 70 now, and not much on pretense outside the courtroom, Pastor. All I really wanted to do is stay at home tonight and read those books. Oh, don’t look glum, I’ll cooperate with you. Here, I’ll write out a check for $100, and you can announce a special addition to the prize for this to cover. Maybe Lola can go to a horror movie about beans besides eat out.
“I’ve had a tough week, Pastor. I’ve had a young female lawyer in-house learning-kind of interning with me this week. I swear, turning her loose in a small town is like putting a barracuda in the fish tank to swim with the guppies. Where’s all the respect for the writing of Thomas Jefferson and all those other great barristers who wrote the law?
“And now, you’ve stacked Lola Werthwaite’s red bean salad on me to top it off. I may have to send that young jezebel to the sale barn in her cream-colored dress tomorrow just to get even with all of you. Yes, it would be a pleasure to send such a well-groomed jezebel of an attorney down to do an investigation among the steers and the manure.
“I’m going downstairs to the Sunday school nursery bathroom to read my books out of sight before the ladies are ready for us. I’ll do stomach relaxation exercises maybe.”
“OK, O.B., but don’t lock yourself in there. We’ve had trouble with the bolt lock installed at the top of the nursery restroom door to make it so the kids have to find an adult to be let in there. They can make a mess otherwise. But sometimes the bolt slips into place all by itself. We’ve had two different nursery teachers lock themselves in the bathroom when it slipped.”
“I’ll stick a couple of pencils in it to hold it out, Pastor. Maybe the hero in my book will put a couple of slugs in the bad guy before the end of my book. That always makes me feel better. I’ll try to not even think of my young lady attorney I have to turn out in the world tomorrow, Pastor, my little pit bull thrown into the chicken coop.”
Pastor Mack Jackey tried to spend much of the intervening hour in his office to relax himself before the salad contest. There was something to be said for O.B. Goodfellow’s dread, he decided. Red bean salad wasn’t sounding too good.
Then he had to make his way to the kitchen where the pleasantly visiting ladies were putting the last touches to their salads. The air was fragrant with the smells of cooked meat and sliced vegetables that made Jackey begin to salivate.
A side door opened, and in walked Lola Werthwaite with a dish towel covering a large green bowl, her teeth gleaming brightly at everyone from a broad smile. Jackey thought he sniffed a faint odor of vinegar mixed with something else familiar, something not quite identifiable.
“I’ll go get my husband, Pastor Jackey,” trilled a beaming curly gray-haired Agnes Goodfellow as she undid her apron to walk toward the Sunday school staircase. “I know where he’s resting, Pastor.”
They set up a table for the salads judging, and Pastor Jackey took his position at the beginning with his saucer and spoon awaiting the appearance of O.B. Goodfellow. The ladies were lining up to dip small portions of their salads on the judges’ saucers.
Agnes was walking up to the Pastor. She had a look of sorrow on her face, and she whispered in his ear, “I’m sorry, Pastor, but O.B. will be here in just a moment. He’s in the hallway gathering himself. He had the misfortune to look out here to see Lola just as she was walking in, and he got the dry heaves. But he’ll make it.”
At last O.B. Goodfellow walked in with his thumbs tucked in his slacks against his stomach in a relaxed posture, smiling broadly in his dignified matter. “Well, well, well-look at you ladies. Look at all the salads. This is going to be a fun and tasty experience, Pastor.”
“O.B., O.B., try mine first,” called Lola Werthwaite from down the line. “I’ve done a specialty you’re really going to like this time.”
“Oh, that wouldn’t be fair to the other ladies, darlin’,” said O.B. “Your salad is always so special. We need to save it until last to give the other ladies a fair trial, right Pastor?”
“That’s right, ladies,” said Pastor Mack Jackey, winking at O.B. “And I want to tell you I’m adding a special twist to the festivity. This has livened everybody’s evening so much, we’re going to do it again next year. But we’ll do it with a special twist. Whoever wins tonight won’t be eligible to enter again until at least half the ladies have won once, or O.B. and I pass on, or we decide we have to have new judges.”
The two men tasted and swallowed two tablespoons from each of the salads, carefully chewing and wrinkling their eyebrows beforehand to show they were giving it special thought-no better showmen than a pastor and an attorney. Each lady lifted the cover from her salad to dip them some. Down at the end, Lola Werthwaite chuckled in excitement with her wooden spoon at her side.
The pastor had to admit that some of the creations were very good, especially the tomatoes with the avocados and green peppers. But an acrid, fishy smell was filling his nose the closer he came to end of the table.
“Ta-daaa,” squealed Lola Werthwaite, throwing back the dishtowel from the green bowl where big red and brown beans basked in the sauce of a swampy creation. “Special, for you, O.B.,” she said, plopping a big wooden spoonful on the attorney’s saucer.
“My, my,” said O.B. holding his lips in a tight, pursing smile. “Red bean salad-whatever have you done with it this year Mrs. Werthwaite? It certainly looks worth waiting for.”
“Well, O.B.,” she said as she scooped the dry-gulping pastor’s portion on his saucer. “I know how you enjoyed my red bean salad with all the new additions last year. But I feel I’ve really outdone myself with this latest delicious creation. I got the idea from a cookbook for odd canned goods left in the pantry. The salad has the red beans, kidney beans, vinegar, mayonnaise, double celery, black olives, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet pickles and dill pickles just like last year, but the latest ingredient is the most special.”
“What would that be, dear? Oh, excuse me for choking a little bit,” said O.B.
“That’s OK, O.B. The new surprise ingredient is-ta-daaa-band section, tuna fish, pureed to a mush in the vegetable oil it came in. What a new bite it adds.”
O.B. scooped two tablespoons of bean salad almost at once as though he was eager, holding his lips so tightly together they turned blue. Then giving a quick gulp, he leaned forward to the pastor’s ear signaling him closer with his hand.
“For god’s sake, she’s the winner, Pastor. Tell my wife you can bring me home later. This is an emergency that’s gonna take a while. Gotta run back downstairs fast.”
O.B. turned on his heel, quickly marching to the staircase. “Why, that’s the way he walks when court’s dismissed,” said Agnes Goodfellow, raising her eyebrows.
Pastor Mack Jackey was staring with fascination at the way the adam’s apple in a heavy man’s thick neck could work up and down that way as O.B. marched off, the red of his bald head turning beginning shades of purple.
“Your turn at the bean salad,” said Lola, watching Pastor Jackey closely
He took his two spoonfuls slowly and thoughtfully, rolling the red beans, crunchy celery and other ingredients in his mouth, giving special consideration to the biting blend of vinegar, mayonnaise and oily tuna paste.
“Uuuh, uh, uuh,” Pastor Mack Jackey groaned involuntarily. “My that was good, Lola,” he gulped, struggling to smile. “I concur with O.B. Ladies, Lola Werthwaite’s red bean salad is the winner this year. Now everybody line up to eat while I run, or walk with slow dignity to my office, to put her gift together for presentation at service tomorrow.”
He leaned over to whisper to Agnes, “I’ll bring O.B. home. An, emergency I think, oh God.” A burning sensation was moving up his esophagus, and it seemed two fighting tomcats were clawing the sides of his stomach as they tumbled around in it.
Reverend Mack Jackey headed down the staircase to the nursery room, where a pale, shaking O.B. Goodfellow was just coming out of the restroom. Jackey leaned over the toilet filling it with the remnants of a night’s salad-tasting before he stopped.
Then they stood a moment, sweat running down their pale foreheads as they looked at each other shaking.
“Gangway, preacher, here she comes again,” called the attorney before the pastor hollered “Ditto.”
He slammed the door behind him to stand with O.B., the two of them, cool, calm professionals, able to handle most other people’s troubles, gagging the remnants of simple red beans. Neither of them looked at the other until the toilet was flushed, and the floor was mopped with wet paper towels.
“Let’s go home, Pastor,” said O.B. Goodfellow.
“I’m for that, my friend. At least we have Lola Werthwaite out of next year’s contest.”
O.B. turned the knob, but the restroom door didn’t come open. “My pencils came out. You threw the deadbolt, Pastor.”
“Let’s hit the door together, bust the deadbolt out. I don’t want to be here much longer. One, two, three, uhhhh.”
After hitting the door three times, they stood looking at it, rubbing their shoulders.
“As I recall, Pastor,” said O.B., “this door is solid antique oak, actually carved out from a native tree by a parishioner. It’s so thick I think they set that lock in there with lag bolts. I finished my first book if you want to read it while I get the second one out.”
It had been many years since Pastor Mack Jackey had taken the time to read a western. He had gotten to Chapter 10, and was about to call out for his turn to sit on the toilet when the lightbulb blew out.
“At least,” said Pastor Jackey, “I enjoyed the part of the book where the guy who heckled the parson and his wife shot his own attorney before the hanging.”
“I enjoyed that myself,” said O.B. “Would you rather try to sleep on the floor or sing for a while.”
They were on the third chorus of “What a Friend we Have in Jesus”-Jackey singing tenor and O.B. baritone-when someone outside slid the dead bolt open.
“Saint Agnus herself,” said Pastor Jackey as he looked at the attorney’s wife standing in the bright light.
“Now, let’s go home, Pastor,” said O.B. putting out his arm for his wife, which she promptly pushed away saying, “O.B., you smell.”
“I suppose I do. You got my $100 for the bean salad prize, Pastor?” he asked.
“I sure do,” said Pastor Jackey, smiling back at him. “I thought you’d find it money well spent to keep from eating a dish by Lola next year.”
“Amen, Preacher. I suppose you could sue Lola Werthwaite for this somehow, or contemplate litigation against the church. But I really wouldn’t advise it. You are in a weak position since you called for the contest yourself. Actually, it’s me who is best situated to sue you,” he laughed.
“You got me there,” said a laughing Pastor Mack Jackey. “But right now, I’m just very happy this is all over with.”
Yes, it was very good to be back at the office the next morning in clean clothes with no hints of red beans in the air or in the stomach, O.B. decided.
Even the sight of the blond jezebel in her beige dress tapping her toe while she whistled through her teeth couldn’t irritate him. She didn’t know how much fun she was going to have at the sale barn today.
“Miss Zimmerman,” he called for his new secretary. “I need you to come in here for a moment.”
“I need you to make note to enter two things on the books.”
“First, enter under donations that I gave $100 at my church last night for sponsorship of a contest.”
“Then make out an invoice, dated yesterday, and enter it on the books, to Pastor Mack Jackey, for legal advice. Make it for $75. And, dear, just a little oddity here. Would you mail him the invoice with a get-well card? I’ll give you the money to pick it up on your lunch hour.”
“On my lunch hour, sir?”
“Yes, and I’ll buy your lunch, too. Why don’t you try some of the red bean chili con carne on special down at the cafe-real Mexican style with hot chilies. Possibly the best use you can make of beans.”