Sunday, May 22, 2011

Scrumdiddle - a homey tale of competition

I'm sorry to say I had to change stories on you this week. I was going to post a new story called "The Pie Maker," but my shoulder RSI is still so bad, I have to keep typing and mouse work to a minimum.

So I went hunting back through some very very very old stories, all the way back to those three stories I wrote before I attended Clarion. There in the really early stuff, I found "Scrumdiddle." A story inspired by family tales about my great grandmother -- just like "The Pie Maker" was! Kismet!

NOTE: The characters and details here are made up of whole cloth, however.


by Camille LaGuire

"WHAT ARE WE putting on special today?" asked Ginny as she erased yesterday's special from the front window chalkboard.

"Ribs," said Honira sharply, brushing back the one loose strand of gray hair and crossing her arms. "Ribs. Potato salad. And Garden Fresh Peas. Pumpkin Pie."

"Yes, ma'm," said Ginny. She wrote the menu with a flourish learned in art class. "Three fifty?"


"Great Deal!" said Ginny, reading her own words off the board. She pulled back the curtain and put the board back in. Just then she saw a movement in the window across the street. The Racklin Coffee House. "Hey, Bet, he's doin' it again."

Bet, rotund and forty, stepped out of the kitchen, wiping the pancake batter off her hands. She craned to see over Ginny's head as Max Racklin, owner of the Racklin Coffee House, replaced the daily specials sign in his window.

"Delicious RIBS," it said. "With POTATO SALAD, garden fresh PEAS, and delectable PUMPKIN PIE: $3.25. Great Deal!"

"What are you gawking at?" said Honira.

"Max is copying your special again, ma'm," said Ginny. "Third time this week."

"And he's undercutting your price," added Bet.

"What?" said Honira. She brushed aside the other women and looked. "Hunh. Garden fresh peas, my eye. Freezer fresh, more like. He's been doing this all week?"

"Yes ma'm."

"Well, let's see him copy this." Honira took the sign out of the window, and rubbed it off with her towel. "Let's see."

While she thought, Ginny saw the curtain pull back on the coffee house. Honira, with a sudden flamboyant scrawl, wrote a single word on the board.


She wrote the price underneath--three fifty--and replaced it in the window. A moment later the board disappeared across the street, and reappeared.


"What's Scrumdiddle?" asked Ginny.

"Nothin'," said Honira. "I just made it up."

"What do you think he's serving for it?"

"Whatever it is, it'll give his customers indigestion."

"What'll we serve?"


* * *

It was still well before lunch, and most people were still having breakfast, or coffee and a snack. Between pouring cups and ringing up tabs, Ginny managed to sneak a peek out the window now and then. As often as not, she'd see Max Racklin standing outside his coffee house, arms crossed over his big white apron, glaring thoughtfully back at her.

"He doesn't know what to do," she whispered to Bet.

"Lemme see," said Bet. "Oh, he's mad. It's almost lunch, and he doesn't know what to serve."

"He'll probably just give 'em his goshawful goulash."

"Ladies!" came Honira's voice from the kitchen. "What are you gaping at?"

Before she hurried back to work, Ginny gave one last glance back at the window. It was only a glance, so she wasn't sure, but Max suddenly wasn't glaring anymore. He almost looked happy.

There weren't many people in the cafe. It was around eleven, and most of the late breakfast crowd had cleared out. Old Mr. Eaton was by the window writing poetry, as usual. It was pretty silly poetry, but it got published in the paper every Sunday. Ginny refilled his cup and helped him find a rhyme for the word "loquacious." ("Bodacious.") Then she gave the bill to the down-state couple at the counter, who were arguing civilly over whether they should stop in Empire, or go straight over to Traverse. They'd been arguing for long enough to do both, and it looked like it would be a while yet, so she refilled their cups and set to clearing tables.

The door opened with a jingle, and in walked Wally Hindren. He grinned and plopped himself down at the table Ginny was just wiping.

"Scrumdiddle?" he said. "I can't believe it. I haven't had Scrumdiddle since my Aunt Evy moved to Florida!"

Ginny chewed her lip and looked nervously back at the kitchen.

"You mean you want some?"

"Yes, indeed," he said, rubbing his hands together. "I'm starved."

"I'll see if it's ready yet."

Ginny ran to the kitchen in a panic.

"Honira! There really is such a dish as Scrumdiddle! What are we gonna do?"

"Calm down, Ginny," said Honira, stirring her barbeque sauce. Honira never got excited, not even back on that day the kitchen had caught fire.

"Wally Hindren's out front, and his Aunt Evy used to make it, and he's looking forward to it, and what am I gonna serve him, 'cause he's a friend of Max's and he'll sue us for false advertising if it isn't the right thing."

"He's a friend of Max, all right. They're as close as ivy to a brick wall, and don't you think that he has any idea what Scrumdiddle is. He's over here to find out for Max."

"But what are we going to serve him?"

Honira set down her spoon and wiped her hands on her apron, her eyes had that unfocused look that they get when she starts cooking creatively.

"Is there any of that chicken liver left?"

"Yes, ma'm. We were saving it for the cats."

"Well, the cats will just have to make do with mice. Get it for me."

When Ginny came back with the liver, she found Honira scrambling some eggs. On the counter beside her were an onion, pickle relish, soy sauce, and a bottle of maraschino cherries.

"Go tell Wally it'll be done in a minute."

Ginny hid the look of disgust on her face, and smiled as she went back to Wally.

"It'll be ready in a minute, Mr. Hindren," she said. "Now did you say you wanted that to go?"

"Uh, yeah," he said. "Yeah, I am in a hurry."

Of course he was in a hurry, Ginny thought. In a hurry to get his prize right back to Max. She wasn't sure whether she was more sorry to miss the look on his face when he got it, or more pleased to get that stuff Honira was whipping up out of the restaurant.

When she got back to the kitchen, Honira was ladling barbeque sauce over the goop on the grill.

"He wants it to go."

"Well, isn't that nice," said Honira, and she pulled out a styrofoam container and plopped the goop into it. "Now top it with some grated cheese, and put on a little sprig of parsley. There it is."

Wally already had three dollars and sixty four cents counted out on the counter. He didn't even look in the container; he just grabbed it and headed out the door. The women watched him through the window as he headed straight for Max's place.

They didn't hear anything for the rest of the day. As folks came in and asked about the special, Ginny told them it was a joke, and described the ribs. Most folks took the ribs.

* * *

The next morning Ginny yawned and rubbed off the previous day's special.

"What's the special today?"

"Fried chicken, coleslaw, fresh baked rolls, and strawberry pie."

As Ginny put the board in the window, she saw the curtain across the street move, and a sign appeared.

Scrumdiddle, $3.25. Great Deal!

"Bet, come look at this."

Bet looked out and shook her head.

"Hunh. I guess he's learned his lesson."

"Never compete with Honira," agreed Ginny. "Any goop she makes up is better than what he usually serves."

"That's for sure," said Bet with a chuckle.


Tomorrow I'll tell you the story behind the story, and of the woman known to is all as "Great," who did indeed once foil a copycat competitor by offering Scrumdiddle as the daily special.

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