Uncle Charleyís Chicken

Opening Dialogue Around The Table

"You know, Tom, when I reminisce about my younger days, one of the great taste treats was Uncle Charleyís chicken. It was made with a Maine mystique, fraught with symbolism and liturgy Ė a true culinary miracle.  Ingredients included olive oil, vinegar, and assorted spices as a marinade. The chicken was placed in a pan and followed by the marinade and the whole thing was left out for 24 hours or so."

"Left out?

"Right."

"It wasnít refrigerated?"

"Nope."

"A wonder anyone survived knowing what we know about Salmonella today."

"Not even the toughest bacteria or virus could live through Uncle Charleyís marinade."

"How about humans?"

"And you know something? When I make it, Iím bringing some over to you, Terry, and Josh."

"I thought we were friends?"

"We are."

"Youíve got the original recipe?"

"Iíve got the original recipe!"

"Do you have to file an Environmental Impact Statement before serving it?"

"Huh?"

"Is the recipe registered with the ATF?"

"Hey, knock it off, itís a classic recipe."

"So's arsenic."

  We sat at the table outside in his back yard; cocktails at 5:00 PM. We were soon joined by his wife Sharon, and finally, my wife Terry. Brownie wailed plaintively from the window and Steve went into the house to replenish the drinks and bring the dog outside.

It all started years ago. We had been living in the brick Federalist era town house on the Salem Common for a year. The house originally belonged to a couple Clipper Ship sea captains and looked like a big capital C . I was puttering around in the garden working with my herbs. Iím having a fantasy that Iím a 12th century monk working the monastery garden to create medicinal potions that probably, during that period of history, poisoned more peasants that they cured.

"Hi, my nameís Steve ----."

I broke from my reverie and as usual didnít get his last name.

"Hi, Iím Tom. We have this part of the house; we meaning my wife Terry, daughter Julianne, and son Joshua. You leasing this side?"

"Yup, we just moved in."

"Your wife?"

"My friend Sharon."

Our yards were separated by a stonewall thatís about three feet tall. His yard starts at the top of the wall that has a small wooden fence.

"The fence bends over." I said. "Climb over and Iíll give you a tour of the gardens."

"Why donít you join me for a cocktail first." Steve offered.

"Sure"

"What do you drink?"

"My cocktail du jour is kind of unusual Ė I drink Vodka and Diet Coke."

"Youíre shitting!" He said. "Thatís what Iím drinking right now!!"

Just then I heard the theme from the Twilight Zone in my head.

"I thought I was the only one on earth who drank Vodka and Diet Coke."

"Then I guess thereís two of us. However, I make mine with caffeine free Diet Coke. I read somewhere that caffeine as an upper tends to lessen the alcoholic buzz."

"But, then again, Tom, you feed caffeine to a drunk; it doesnít sober him up but you get a wide awake drunk."

"Good point." As we shook hands to begin a fun relationship.

I didnít meet Sharon until some time later. At this time of year, she handles the financials at MIT and weaves herself into an accounting cocoon. The butterfly emerges sometime in late August or early September with the universityís monetary (I hesitate to say P&L) report. Steve, by the way is a health care administrator.

Back to the table, Terry asks, "Steve, given yours and Sharonís professions, youíd think you both are a couple of conservatives."

"Wrong." They both answered in harmony.

                   Hereís how they met.

The Witchís Brew is a small bar & restaurant on Derby Street off downtown Salem. Itís close enough to capture the occasional tourist but just enough on the fringe so that most of the patrons comprise regulars and other Salem town folk. Spiro, the owner chef, maintains this clientele with a superb cuisine, realistic pricing, and a sense of family. You donít so much go there to eat and drink but rather you belong there. Terry and I donít go there as often as weíd like because you can smoke in there without lighting up, itís so thick. Iím a reformed smoker and Terry is asthmatic. Nothing personal. However, Iím told that theyíll be improving the ventilation in the near future so that we may rethink our attitude because we really admire Spiroís cooking art. Anyhow, imagine a typical weekend evening at the Brew. The place is packed. Steak tips are the special. Sharon is sharing a drink and a story with a girl friend. Suddenly, the door opens and in walks this dude bedecked in leather a la Harley-Davidson with the accompanying fringes and biker paraphernalia, helmet in hand. His entrance probably didnít make much of a first impression on Sharon probably due to her background. Her dad was in the banking industry at the VP level. She holds an MBA and maintains the books at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If this were ancient Rome, and the Augurs read the entrails of a chicken, a budding romance wouldnít be predicted here. Imagine if you will Lady Sharon on a Dyna Wide Glide! Nope, doesnít compute. She didnít even give the ĎLeader of the Packí a first look until he came out of the menís room. He took the only available seat next to Sharon. The first thing she noticed was his smile, definitely not Hellís Angels material. They started chatting and she thought he seemed more educated than the run-of-the-mill stereotypical biker dude. Their friend Keith is another example, but thatís another story. When Steve again had to visit the menís room, Sharonís friend suggested that if he asks for her number, give him a piece of fiction. Steve may have impressed Sharon, but he wasnít an initial hit with her girl friend. Well, they began seeing each other and by the third date they learned what Walt Disney told us years ago. Itís a small world after all. Go figure. Steve grew up around Newburyport and Sharon around Danvers, 20-30 miles apart. It seems that when Sharon told her dad she was dating Steve Demaranville, he remarked, "I know a Peter Demaranville. He used to work for me at the bank."   Yup, you guessed it, Steveís father. Play the Twilight Zone theme again. Actually, it turned out well because shortly after, they became an item and moved in together. Unfortunately, they lived on Derby Street which then had white trash not from the Witchís Brew but right out of the witchís cauldron. Luckily, after a period, they moved to Winter Street where our yards were joined in marriage as they were too a couple years later.

  Bob (or is it John Ė I can never get it straight) and Heidi

Steveís sister Heidi and her soul mate Bob are now joining us. Heidi always adds an element of bubbles and champagne to this group around the table in Steve and Sharonís yard. Bob complements her effervescence with laid-back assuredness. They usually bring their own cooler of beer with holders to keep them cold. Heidi and Bob cohabitate an apartment about 10 minutes from here. Hopefully, a wedding looms.

"Oh look," says Heidi, "Brownieís looking at us from the window, how cute!"

Steve went into the house and brought Brownie out and let her roam the yard by tying her to a retracting leash set into the ground.

                    The Brown Dog

Brownie is a Beagle whose bark is more plaintive than menacing. It has an element of pain bordering on the tragic. As a pup, Brownie was neglected to the point of abuse. Sharon heard of Brownieís plight and ended up dog napping her. Brownie had lost all of her spirit. Steve and Sharon gave her back her soul and a wagging tail.

"Sheís such a good dog. Come here brown dog and give me a kiss."

"Iíll give you a kiss. Iíll give youÖ" Bob mumbled.

"Is your speech slurred?" asked Heidi of Bob.

"Is the pope Italian?"

"No, heís Polish."

"I rest my case, your honor."

"What the hell does that mean? I think itís time to go, Bob."

"No, it isnít, itís only 5:00 PM and weíre not going Ďtil 7:08. See, I can be confrontational?"

"Good enough for me." I piped in. "Anyone who can say Ďconfrontationalí with a straight face passes my sobriety test."

Bob was so mellow after several drinksÖa smiling mellow.

"Anybody hungry?" Asked Steve.

Did I mention that Steve is a cook whose grilling expertise often reached 3 star Michelin proportions? At one of my family outings, Steve prepared blackened Salmon whose 1 Ĺ" thick fillet was slow cooked for several hours on his smoker. After sampling a piece, my brother Joe insisted on leaving a tip. Sharon, however, cooks the books all day at MIT and, therefore, doesnít choose to cook when she gets home. Sharon brings a stability to the Demaranville relationship that curbs and gives direction to Steveís often ultra exuberance.

             Another Bob (or John?)

"Hungry? No, but how about a drink? Hi guys."

"Hi, Bob." We said in unison.

Another Bob. Sharonís brother Bob is tall and imposing. He follows the familyís bent to crunch numbers. Heís friendly and LOVES to talk. What a surprise it was when he once showed up in my hospital room shortly after I had some surgery last year. I hadnít known him that long or well at the time; itís something you donít forget.

"Whatís up?" said Heidi.

"Got about 10 lobster in the trunk. Me and Frank were diving today. Iím leaving some off for Steve. Hi Tom, letís have martinis!"

"I never want to look at one again." I replied. Bob once made martinis and there is now a 10 hour blank in my memory.

                     Another Friend

The sound started as a small Briggs & Stratton 3 horse putt-putt. By the time it reached us, the Doppler had shifted to Hurricane Keith aboard his Harley. He parked outside the fence. Keith, a rough exterior, weathered and wiry, is intimidating until he speaks. Heís an intellectual and sensitive once he lets you in. Keith, like Steve is an anomaly. Rugged and ruddy faced, heís usually decked out in biker duds or sports that blue-collar look. Keithís interests span a variety of human endeavor. He can hold up his end of a conversation on anything from the breeding of butterflies to syzygy in the cosmos. He has a cat and a Pit Bull the keeping of which has sparked many a disagreement on the effects of genetics upon hostile behavior. In spite of the Pit Bull, youíve got to admire the guy.

  "Keithís just tweaked out the bike. Doesnít it look great?" Offered Steve.

"I wouldnít know great from cataclysmic." Said I.

"Hey Steve, remember your encounter with the old lady across the street?" Said Keith changing the tangent of the conversation.

              Incident Across The Street

Across the street? Actually, itís more like an alley called Pleasant Street Avenue. The street namer was either drunk or the city council couldnít agree on whether to call it a street or avenue. In any case, itís a misnomer. The white house across the street from us belongs to the Gibeaus. Vince Gibeau will be 102 this year and his wife Mary is floating around in her nineties. Vince was in corporate purchasing with RCA Victor and we understand he was instrumental in standardizing processes in his industry. Mary was a landlord or rather a landlady. Steve met her a week or so after he had moved in. She was out with her walker and was assisted by a home health aid. Steve, always interested in expanding his circle of friends, struck up a conversation with her.

"Hi, my nameís Steve Demaranville. I just moved in over here."

"Pleased to meet you, young man, I am Mrs. Mary Gibeau." She didnít introduce the health aid. "My Vince will celebrate his one hundredth in a couple weeks. Youíre friends with the Carmodys?"

"Thatís right although weíve only just met."

"They maintain beautiful flower gardens. Itís a pleasure for both Vince and myself to view them from our windows. Will you have flowers?" She asked.

"Yes, weíll plant some around the border of the yard in the spring."

"May I ask you something?" Steve had a sudden thought.

"But, of course." Replied Mary in her most disarming manner.

"Iím trying to find a place for my motorcycle. Could I rent that portion of your garage thatís not being used?"

"Absolutely not!" And with that, she turned and walked away. Steve ended up garaging it with OíDonnell's, the funeral home across the Common.

"What a witchy woman" Said Keith.

"Not really, sheís just old and not fond of the biker set. It just struck Tom and me as funny as hell the way she responded ĎAbsolutely not!í

Steve and Sharon married November of 1998 in a New England style white church in Danvers. Sharon was never more beautiful and Steve absolutely in his element awash with friends and relatives. Julianne and I offered to sing and my family was invited to all the functions including the rehearsal, wedding, reception, and party after. At the reception, Julianne dazzled both the band and audience with her rendition of ĎMy Funny Valentineí.

                   All Good Things----

"Címon Bob, letís go home, itís getting late." Suggested Heidi.

"OH, Okay." Agreed Bob in his most inebriated but non-confrontational manner.

"Iím glad sheís driving." Said Terry.

"Yeah, her now, him later."

"Tom, stop that!!" Yelled Terry.

We headed for the gate that Steve had put in last summer, so we could easily pass from one yard to the next. At 10:00 PM that night, I poked my head out the back door and spotted Steve night-capping at the table.

"Hey, whatís up?"

"Iím fried."

"Pretty well done myself, thanks. Iím turning in. Got a long day tomorrow."

"I just thought of something."

"What?"

"Itís fall."

"Yeah, andÖ?"

"That means soon is winter when you folks go into hibernation. We wonít see you Ďtil spring."

"Maybe this year itíll be different."

"Yeah, maybe it will."

"Later."

"Bye."