|(Photograph by Alex Wild. Used here with permission of the copyright holder.)|
I may have mentioned, from time to time, that our house is infested with ants.
Not the large, dangerous carpenter ants (that are as bad as termites and survive in harsher climates) but, rather, the little, ordinary brown ants that live in the dirt and gravel crawl space beneath our kitchen or the dirt crawl space beneath our den (or so I imagine).
It is an old house.
With the early spring this year, they've been more numerous than ever -- and Long Suffering Spouse has never been more vigilant.
She uses bleach in areas where food may be prepared and various types of sprays in other locations. Now we have grown kids who bring their dogs over for visits, so Long Suffering Spouse was recently casting about for something a bit more "pet friendly" than Raid.
She found something that claimed to be pet-friendly and organic and green and all those good things. As long as it was safe in the can, we looked very responsible and ecological.
But then she sprayed it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have never smelled such a stench. My wife thinks it smells like some sort of rancid wintergreen -- and she hates wintergreen. The odor reminds me of the green powdery stuff the school janitors used to throw on top of kids' vomit -- only not nearly so pleasant. And it's heavy. It sinks like the poison gas used in World War I. The day after it was applied on the first floor, I had to go into the basement -- and thought I would choke to death. Thank heavens it's been warm this spring, so we can open the doors and windows and flush out the stink.
The spray does kill ants -- but not indefinitely.
So it's been a battle all spring. Attack and counterattack. And sometimes the ants attack the kitchen counters, too. A chip fragment or cookie crumb on the den floor, one so small as to escape my notice when I left it behind, can become a little brown ball of greedy ants in a few hours.
But fast forward now to Easter Sunday.
Youngest Son couldn't come home from school; the very secular South Janesville College does not give any time off for Easter and he had doubleheaders on Good Friday and Holy Saturday both. Older Daughter had to work and her husband Hank had to sing at his Easter Sunday services in Indianapolis. Younger Daughter and Olaf had to be at the home of Olaf's aunt. Olaf's mother and aunt have taken charge of decorations for the forthcoming wedding (Olaf and Younger Daughter will be wed in June).
Olaf and Younger Daughter promised to get back to our house for dessert. But Oldest Son and Abby and their little dog Rodent came to dinner, as did Abuela and Middle Son. And Middle Son brought a guest.
Middle Son has been dating a girl -- I'll call her Margaret because that's not her name -- for some time now. (It was around this time just last year that I discovered that Middle Son had gone public -- on Facebook -- with the arrangement.) Margaret has met all Middle Son's siblings -- but Middle Son had not (until Easter) been quite ready to subject her to Long Suffering Spouse and me. But for his sister's wedding, he might have put off this introduction even longer. As it was, he'd only warned us a week ago that he might be bringing Margaret to Easter dinner.
This is a big step.
There were a couple of girls that I dated that came to my parents' house in Boondockia, but I'm pretty sure that the only girl I ever actually brought to a family function at that house was the future Long Suffering Spouse. Oldest Son never brought any girl to our house until he brought Abby. Hank hung around the house for seven years on assorted holidays -- but Older Daughter had never inflicted anyone else on us before. A couple of Younger Daughter's disgruntled ex-boyfriends tried to burn down our house once or twice, but the only one she's brought into the house is Olaf.
So Middle Son's bringing Margaret to Easter Dinner is/was officially a Big Deal.
She seems very nice. Not tall, in my opinion, but not too short. (Middle Son is tall.) She's thin -- very thin -- delicate-looking, maybe even fragile in appearance. But really thin people often have harsh facial features, and I'd noticed (from a few Facebook photos that I'd seen) that her face might appear angular and sharp. But, in person, the lines were softened. She's clearly bright. She has a pale complexion. You know the one the romance writers call milky white? She really is. Middle Son says she dyes her blondish hair dark, but I don't know if he's pulling my leg. He might be, you know.
Anyway, Long Suffering Spouse cooked and cleaned, and cleaned and baked and I assisted with everything except food preparation. I carried stuff up and down the stairs. I washed dishes that couldn't go in the dishwasher, loaded and unloaded said dishwasher, set the table, dusted. I even got the laundry started.
Now ham is the main course of every Easter dinner in my experience. I don't know if that's a Chicago thing, a U.S. thing, or a worldwide truth. But we always have ham.
And my wife always bakes one or more lamb cakes.
The symbology of the lamb cake at Easter is, I assume, obvious. Usually, Long Suffering Spouse will make a pound cake and decorate it with frosting, including shredded coconut to suggest wool -- or dyed green around the cake to suggest grass. And, in the last several years, if she makes one, she must make two: Abuela wants her own.
But this year Long Suffering Spouse made a third lamb cake -- this one of German chocolate.
I truly love German chocolate cake, and I don't get it nearly enough.
There's a fine line in families. If only Dad likes something, it will be dropped from the family menu. If everyone likes something, Dad will be lucky to get a taste. German chocolate cake is something that only I like, apparently, although Younger Daughter recently said she liked it too. I have no illusions. Long Suffering Spouse made it because Younger Daughter would help me eat it.
Dinner went well. Middle Son teases Margaret all the time, accusing her of 'eating like a bird.' That, indeed, was one of the few pieces of information Middle Son had ever doled out about her before Sunday. Not to be outdone, I offered Margaret the supermodel special -- a stick of celery with a daub of ranch dressing -- if that wasn't too much. Margaret tucked into two platefuls of everything just to show us. Middle Son was impressed.
Rodent was not too obnoxious. She's too small to really beg at the table. She was excited, though, and did let loose with the Wee Wee of Joy on the living room rug at one point. Oldest Son cleaned it up immediately.
Long Suffering Spouse, as always, had enough food to feed the Russian army, just in case it might march through during dinner. The dining room table was crowded, and Long Suffering Spouse spilled her wine a couple of times trying to serve everyone with everything.
And, finally, it was time for dessert. Abuela had made flan and Abby looks forward to it. I don't think Margaret had ever heard of flan, much less tried it, but she tried it Sunday and bravely claimed to enjoy it. I had a small piece -- but I was saving up room for my German chocolate cake.
Finally someone brought it out, still wrapped in aluminum foil. Long Suffering Spouse had set this out on a table near a window so it wouldn't be in the way.
I greedily unwrapped it.
Middle Son, seated to my left, was the first to notice.
"Um, Dad? Look."
"Oh my." There were ants. Lots of ants. They'd penetrated the aluminum foil, but as near as I could tell, they were mostly on the bottom of the glass serving platter. I brushed them off onto the tablecloth and dispatched them. (Hey, the wine had already been spilled, OK?)
Middle Son was looking at me in horror. "Um, Dad?"
I kept brushing and squishing, brushing and squishing. I really like German chocolate cake.
Finally Middle Son could take it no longer. He jumped up and took the platter away from me and showed it to his mother out in the kitchen. Muffled, embarrassed sounds emanated therefrom; then there was a thumping noise. I figured out what had happened.
"You threw out my whole cake?"
"Mom said. And there were ants everywhere." Maybe they blended in with the frosting and I couldn't tell. I think he was exaggerating. But I'm really unhappy with ants just now.