That evening, tucked snugly into the single bed in her father’s old bedroom, Betsy’s mind traveled through the events of the day. She could hardly believe how much she and her grandmother had accomplished in such a short time. Granted, they hadn’t taken a break or slowed down even for a minute since the time Betsy had walked in the door. Yet, still, it was a great accomplishment.
Betsy thought about the biscuits, the mouth watering heavenly biscuits they’d worked so hard on and wondered where they were going. The breads had been consumed in record time by the patrons of Angela’s Kitchen and Betsy had swelled with pride over the part she had had in providing them.
She and her grandmother stayed until the last person finished their meal, then started the process of cleaning all the pots and pans and running the institutional dishwasher with plates, coffee cups, and cutlery.
There had never been a day in her life where she’d imagined tackling such an ominous job and enjoying it. And the baking! Betsy could hardly believe what she’d been a part of; the creative process of bringing dough to life and dressing it up in all the richness of spices, herbs, and fruit.
Contentment and pride filled her up and she smiled alone in the cozy little bed. She may be gruff and bossy and abrupt, but her grandmother made Betsy smile. She was genuine and beneath all that rough and gruff was a person with a good heart. Feeling her eyelids grow heavy, Betsy allowed herself to let go of all the fear and apprehension she’d brought with her as she’d stepped into her grandmother’s home. She drifted away in a deep peaceful sleep.
“Come on now you lazy bones! It’s quarter past seven and we haven’t got all day. Rise and shine. Your tea is getting cold.”
Betsy’s grandmother stood over her with a look of urgency. “And for goodness sakes, girl, get all that hair out of the way. You should just cut it off you know. Makes for a better baker that way.”
With that, Grandmother Graham did an abrupt about face and left the room, door wide open.
Betsy sighed; Seriously? Seven fifteen? That was all the sleep she was going to get? Sitting up and swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she shivered. Her grandmother had piled the bed with quilts for her the night before and Betsy and snuggled deep sleeping like a dream. By the feel of the arctic air and frozen floor beneath her bare feet, she realized there was a good reason for all those quilts. Her grandmother must turn the heat completely off at night.
Skittering into the bathroom, Betsy was again amused by the pink fixtures and the pink and tan tiles. Never had she seen a bathroom so antiquated.
She quickly brushed her teeth, splashed frigid water on her face, and brushed her hair into a tight bun. This should save her from an unwanted head shave.
Her grandmother was standing over the sink, humming an unfamiliar tune when Betsy quietly entered the kitchen. She slipped into a chair at the table in the nook and cleared her throat.
“Thank you for the tea.” She tentatively addressed her grandmother. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Soon,” was her grandmother’s reply.
From a pot on the stove, she dished up two bowls of something and brought them to the table. Next, she brought a small pitcher of cream, a bowl with brown sugar, and a small bowl of blueberries, and set them in the middle.
“Here you are, now. You like Oatmeal, do you?” She put a heaping spoonful of brown sugar into her serving, a scoop of the berries, and added a bit of cream on top. “Help yourself. It’s not much to speak of on it’s own, do you think?”
Betsy had no idea what she was talking about, yet she managed a smile and followed suit, stirring everything together.
Starting with a sip of tea, she noticed the flavor was different than the morning before. It was an entirely new taste, rich and spicy. She took a small spoonful of the Oatmeal certain she’d never had it before, and smiled at her grandmother. Betsy decided right then she’d get out of bed any morning at seven fifteen to have this tea and this mush. The blueberries and the brown sugar, oh! She added a tiny bit more cream. Betsy closed her eyes, lost in the comfort of the warm simple meal. It beat pop-tarts all to heck.
“It’s going to be quite cold today,” her grandmother looked thoughtfully out the window as she took a sip. “We’re going to need the urn filled with coffee and we can’t forget the paper cups. It’s heavy, that urn is, but I’ll have the girl to help me.” She spoke quietly, as though she were the only person in the room, staring off into the distance.
“The biscuits – they’ll be fine on their own, so full of goodness. Perhaps some hot meat pies to take. I believe there’s everything we need…yes.” She suddenly brightened and smiled at Betsy. “Yes, that’s just what we’ll do.”
Betsy stirred ground beef sizzling in the largest skillet known to man as her grandmother added diced onions, carrots, potatoes, and garlic. She added seasonings, cumin and curry. Betsy’s mouth watered and her stomach growled hungrily yet they continued on.
The dough was rolled out in long sections about two feet long and eight inches wide. Betsy ladled filling into each section marked off by her grandmother’s cutter. Her grandmother then rolled the corners up to meet in the middle and pinched them together. Each little meat pie was then brushed with olive oil and placed on a cookie tray to be baked. As they came out of the oven, her grandmother foil wrapped five or six together in a bunch to keep them warm. Betsy wanted to eat one so badly yet she didn’t dare ask. Her grandmother was on a mission and she was not about to interfere.
At six o’clock, they were done. The kitchen was cleaned and everything was ready to go. Jackets, hats, scarves and gloves, biscuits, boxes of meat pies still warm in the foil, the huge coffee urn, paper cups and napkins, all shuttled to the old Buick parked on the side of the house.
“Now, let’s be off,” her grandmother put the key in the ignition and backed around to head down the drive way. She suddenly stopped and took a good long look at Betsy.
“You all right, girl? I just realized you haven’t been fed since early. You going to be okay waiting a bit longer?”
Betsy nodded. “I am hungry, but I’ll be fine.” She thought about the people at Angela’s Kitchen and how her grandmother told her it was often they had only one meal a day. She would manage with a hungry stomach until they returned that evening.
It was about fifteen minutes into the drive that Betsy realized they were going a bit farther than the night before. Maybe there was another kitchen her grandmother cooked for and they were going there. She decided to wait and see.
They were on the highway, driving past the exit they’d taken previously, heading away from her grandmothers town. The highway sign read: Braiburn 18 mi.
“Where are we going?” Betsy was surprised they were going so far.
“To the next town over. There are some folks there that haven’t a regular kitchen. They need special help where ever they can get it. I don’t normally get to go unless I’ve got myself an extra set of hands.” She smiled fondly at Betsy.
“You’ve turned out to be quit a nice surprise.”
“Thank you,” Betsy self-consciously accepted the compliment.
They drove silently the next eighteen miles, taking the second Braiburn exit. They drove through town, then toward the outskirts. The scenery began changing much as it had the night before; buildings appearing run down and abandoned. Turn after turn, as though they were driving through a maze, they continued on. Street lights disappeared and headlights alone felt inadequate. Betsy’s grandmother appeared confused and Betsy felt fear creep around her heart.
“I’m looking for an old stone church right around here. I’m sorry, I think I’ve gotten us a bit lost.”
Betsy felt a chill; lost in the darkest part of town with a very old grandmother behind the wheel and a car full of coffee and baked goods. What was she doing there?
“Oh, my…” She turned the car down a rutted dirt road. “Oh yes, this is it! I knew I’d find it, just took a minute. The road, you know. I can always tell by the road.”
She pulled in front first, headlights illuminating a tall narrow rock building with a dim light shining through the few windows not boarded up.
“Now, come along.” Grandmother Graham got out of the car and opened the trunk. She began unloading the car when it became clear she was doing it all alone.
Opening Betsy’s door, she tugged on her arm, “Come on now. This food won’t walk in on it’s own you know.”
Betsy held onto her grandmother’s arm. “Grandma, this doesn’t feel safe. I can hardly see a thing and there’s no one around.” She felt herself shaking both from the cold and with fear.
“Now, now,” her grandmother nearly whispered, bending close to Betsy’s ear. “You’ve nothing to worry about. No one here is going to bite you. Come on now, I need your help.”
“No buts! Come along. Can you get the coffee urn? I’ll bring the first box of goodies and a stack of cups.” Just as she started up the steps, a huge creaky door swung open.
“Natalie!” A gruff old voice exclaimed. “What a delightful surprise. Come in! Come in!”
The heavy door slammed shut as her grandmother stepped inside leaving Betsy, chilled to the bone and terrified, standing alone at the bottom of the stairs. She swallowed hard and took a look around. A dark figure was coming down the road. Up the steps she went, the weighty urn of coffee warming her chest and the arms she wrapped around it. She used a booted foot to kick at the door and was instantly granted entry.
“Oh, dear. Didn’t mean to leave you out there alone.” Her grandmother pushed past her.
“Just take that up front and set it on the table.”
Betsy watched her grandmother waltz away, off to get another load. The door opened, closed, and she was gone. Betsy felt eyes on her. Turning toward the front of the church, she slowly began to move her feet. Eyes stared at her in the dim light. The cold was so acute, her breath was blinding like a cloud causing her vision to be hindered. Yet, she had no choice but to move forward, one foot in front of the other, slowly, cautiously.
“We’ve brought good hot coffee,” she heard herself announce cheerfully, mimicking her grandmother. “And delicious meat pies and buttery biscuits,” she exclaimed. “I hope you’re hungry.” The words were out before she could stop them. Of course they were hungry.
She heard chuckling and murmuring voices. She felt herself breathing heavily under the weight of the burdensome urn and picked up her pace. Her arms were shaking with the weight of it and she feared she was about to drop it.
Suddenly strong arms lifted it out of her failing grasp.
“Let me get that for you. Goodness, Natalie must be crazy having you carry this thing. I’m Pastor Joe, by the way, and this is my humble congregation.” He set the coffee on the table. “Perhaps you wouldn’t mind filling some cups and passing them around.”
Leaving Betsy at the table, the pastor moved swiftly down the aisle to open the door for her grandmother.
“Let me take that for you. Anything else?”
“No, that’s the end of it,” Betsy’s grandmother said. “I hope it will do.”
Betsy had begun filling coffee cups and setting them on the table, but no one was coming forward. Although it was difficult to see, there appeared to be about fifty people more or less camped out in the rock structure. Most were settled into pews, some lying down, some sitting. She saw more than backpacks this time. People appeared to be dressed in everything they had that provided any kind of warmth and everyone was bundled in a blanket.
“Now, girl, you see,” her grandmother whispered. “We’ll need to bring the food to them this time. You start with the coffee.”
Betsy followed her grandmother’s instructions and began delivering cups of coffee. She remembered to smile and greet them. It was apparent circumstances here were different than at Angela’s Kitchen the night before. Most accepted the coffee with a nod, few spoke, many shook near uncontrollably and almost no one looked her in the eye.
Betsy’s heart broke. It didn’t matter why they were there, she realized. They were people who needed help and although she was terrified, she was happy to be there. Betsy was suddenly so proud of her grandmother. What an amazing woman she was and what a huge heart she had.
Betsy continued to fill up coffee cups and her grandmother served still warm meat pies to quiet thank you’s and bless you’s. Her grandmother talked nonstop as she served, cheerfully greeting each person and carrying on as though it were the happiest place in the world.
Betsy watched as people slowly began to respond, soft voices thanking her and her grandmother as they served and collected empty cups and napkins.
“Now, we have a surprise for you to enjoy later, when you need a little midnight snack. Good as any desert they are,” her grandmother announced.
“Here now girl,” she set a box in Betsy’s arms. “You give a butter biscuit to each person on this side and I’ll take the other.”
The evening’s mission was much simpler than the night before. It wasn’t long before they were packing up the empty urn and returning empty boxes to her grandmother’s car.
Pastor Joe walked Betsy and her grandmother to the car and hugged them goodbye. “I don’t need to tell you what this meant to us tonight. It was nice to meet you Betsy. I’m sure you know what a blessing your grandmother is to so many.”
With that he left them, hurrying up the steps of the frigid rock structure that housed his beloved homeless congregation.
Betsy quickly settled herself in her seat, immediately buckling up, willing her grandmother to start the car and get going. She could hardly wait to get back to her grandmother’s house; to the warm meal that surely awaited them, to the kitchen she was growing so fond of, and to the little bed piled high with warm heavy quilts.
To Be Continued