Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A thought for Juan

How many of us can remember back to the good old days when we used to huddle up around the coal fire in the evenings, chatting away, playing cards, maybe a bit of rough and tumble, or just sitting and watching the goggle box.

Then mother would come in from the kitchen and slide a plate of sliced bread between us, which we would one by one, and almost without thinking, attach to the end of our forks and toast over the hot coals.

There were those of us that quite enjoyed this pastime, and we became rather proficient at the art – on with the bread and after a couple minutes and a few dextrous twists of the wrist, off would come a slice of nicely crisped and evenly browned toast.

But there were others amongst us who no matter how hard they tried simply could not come up with an evenly toasted piece of bread. One corner would be over done and the other would look like it had hardly seen the light of day.

Then there was the other category of open fire toaster who had absolutely no interest whatsoever; not in the process and certainly not in the toast. He would simply hang his piece of bread on his fork, in whatever manner it happened to end up, and then he’d poke his piece of bread somewhere in the general direction of the fire and wait until he sensed the smell of the burning bread, or he would see the flames out of the corner of his eye. Then he’d pull his charred offering away from the heat, blowing out any flames; he’d turn over what would be left of the already sorry excuse for a piece of toast to be and he’d repeat the process on the other side. When both sides had been well and truly charred, he would use the edge of his fork, or take a knife, and nonchalantly scrape off the blackened coating in to the fire. For him, it was of little consequence whether, or not the charred and scraped remains of his surrogate piece of toast had sufficient substance to support the butter and the jam that awaited it.

My friends mother was of the third category; not altogether because she had no interest in the toast, but more because she had much greater interest in a whole range of other household affairs. Anyway, the result was the same, the toast always finished up a burnt offering, which she would scrape without second a thought and put to one side ready to burn the next in line.

One day, when I was round at my friends house, his mother was waving her slice of bread in the direction of the coals, chatting with my friend and his little sister Katy, when suddenly the phone rang. In those days the phone was exclusively the parent’s domain, it was of course on a fixed line, and theirs was in the hall, as it was in most homes. So my friend’s mother had to break away from her toast to answer the phone.

Katy, who was about five years old, saw her chance to become a first time toaster, never having been trusted with the responsibility up to that time. Mummy, she excitedly exclaimed, let me do it! Mummy was already half way to the phone in the hall and without thinking she handed Katy the toasting fork, complete with its half toasted piece of bread. Katy sat in front of the fire and carefully positioned the bread up to the coals. Turning and twisting the bread, keen to make sure that her mother would be proud of her first toasting effort, Katy carefully went through the entire toasting experience.

My friend and I looked on with great interest, seeing that this was a moment Katy would remember for the rest of her life – as did most of us. Then she jumped up with a gleam across her face; more from excitement than from the heat of the fire. She ran out to the hall, where her mother was still chattering away on the phone; she waved the charred offering toward her mother and asked: “Is this ready for scraping yet?”

When I think back to that time, I find myself wondering: Why is it that those who have the opportunity to be part of worthwhile cause, so often finish up producing charred remains? Is it simply that, like Katy, they have seen that that is what is expected of them?

Katy of course learned that burning the toast is not absolutely necessary. But if others can’t, or don’t want to learn like Katy did, then maybe they could try to improve the scraping process, so that those waiting for their supper, instead of repeatedly having to stomach charred vestiges, or even worse, to going without, would be able to look forward to something altogether more appetizing.

Juan – What do you think?

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