Ornesta to the Rescue!

LeeAnnRubsam.com

“Hey, Ornesta!  How’s life in da U.P.?”

“Not so bad.  The thermometer hasn’t blown out the bottom end yet, the bears haven’t moved into town to feast on the inhabitants, and I haven’t had to deal with any sneezified menus lately.  How about yourself?”

“Um, well … Ornesta, may I come live at your house for a while?”

“Sure, Sweetie!  We can put you up in the ice shanty out back.  Bud won’t need it until the Gitch* freezes over, and that won’t happen for a few weeks yet.  You’ll have your own private commode too, even if it does have a little moon carved out of the door.  What’s the problem?  Hubby being mean to you?”

“No, no.  The hubby’s always good to me.  I can’t complain — even if he can’t figure out how to use the phones around the house without disconnecting himself.”

“How about the teenager?  Is she running wild all over town?”

“No, not that either.  The closest Beebee ever comes to running wild is to saunter down Main Street in Little Chute with her guitar strapped to her back.”

“Little Chute!  What does she go there for?  It’s full of Hollanders!”

“She’s got a friend that lives there — not Hollander, either.  But — what’s wrong with Hollanders?  We’re all either Hollanders or Krauts down here.  If you stick a bratwurst in each of our fists, you can’t tell us apart. We all talk like Yoopers*.”

“Heeeyyyy!  Well, at least if you come to stay with us no one will know you aren’t the genuine article.  You know, I visited Little Chute once.  Went there for the Kermit Festival — but I didn’t see the little green guy anywhere, or Miss Piggy either — just a lotta folks clomping around in wooden shoes, with tulips stuck in their baseball caps.”

Kermis, not Kermit!  It just means an outdoor festival in Dutch.”

“Yah, whatever. Now, what’s the matter, anyway?”

“(Sigh!) Money doesn’t grow on the bushes out back, BFF’s aren’t always forever, my creative juices seem to have gotten rancid, I should have taken up Dave Barry on his offer after all, and I might as well apply the Christmas cookies directly to my hips, since they’re going to end up there anyway. “

“Yah, those are problems, all right.  But, how is living in the ice shanty going to fix ’em, do you s’pose?”

“Well, I think I just need a change of scenery — new vistas produce new writing fodder, you know?”

“That might take care of the rancid juices, but I don’t know if it will help the cookie-hips problem much. But tell you what: you pack your duffel bag and c’mon up, and I’ll have Merle Haggard singin’ Everybody Gets the Blues and If We Make It Through December on the tape deck in the shanty to cheer you up when you get here.”

“Throw in  Mule Skinner Blues, and I’m on my way!”

*The Gitch — Gitche Gumee; Lake Superior
*Yoopers — people who live in Michigan’s upper peninsula

(For more Ornesta-related adventures see Simply Ornesta! in the sidebar, under Archives.)

Watch that Menu!

LeeAnnRubsam.com

My friend and avid fan, Ornesta Fruggenbotham, called the other day.  You remember Ornesta.  She’s the one who made guest appearances in this blog with her true-life stories about a dead brother who was really quite alive and a fond memory of a Christmas banquet served next to the bedroom clothes hamper.  Life is weird in Upper Michigan, as proved by the latest phone conversation.

“Well, hello, Ornesta!  How’s the weather in Iron Ore these days?  Has the Big Lake frozen over yet?”

“It’s cold enough to give a polar bear frostbite, I had to use a welding torch to thaw out the phone line before calling you, and an iceberg took out the Edmund Fitzgerald last Tuesday.”

“C’mon, Ornesta.  I’m smarter than that.  I’ve listened to a little Gordon Lightfoot myself, and I know how long ago that happened.  It wasn’t an iceberg, either.”

“I’m not really concerned about the temperature.  It’s a different kind of cold threat I’ve had on my mind of late.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.  I was at one of those “bottomless fries”  eateries a couple of weeks ago, and —“

“Pardon me, Ornesta.  You shouldn’t do that.  I just read about the house specialty burger — 93 whoppin’ grams of lardo and a full day’s calories — without the fries.”

“When you live this far north, you need that much grease to keep your joints oiled and moving.  But let me tell you what happened.”

“OK, shoot.”

“The guy at the next table had to sneeze, see?  And he wanted to be polite and not let fly at the woman across the table from him — which was good, ’cause it was one sloppy doozy of a sneeze!”

“Ewww.”

“No, just wait!  I’ll give you an ‘Ewww!’  He used his menu as a sneeze shield!  Germs and gook all over the picture of the chicken burger!”

“Double Ewww.”

“Now, you’ve got to THINK about this a little!  They didn’t send the menu home with him as a souvenir.  Somebody else had it in his frozen little fingers before —“

“Before the gook dried and the germs died.  I’m eating at home from now on.”

“Well, you don’t have to go to those extremes.  Just do what I did the next time I ate there.”

“Hmmm?  There’s more story coming, isn’t there.”

“I didn’t touch the menu the next time.  I asked the waitress to read it to me.”

“The whole menu?”

“Yeah, and she says, ‘Ohhh,’ in this I-am-so-sorry-for-you tone,  and then says, ‘We have Braille menus for the sight-impaired.’ 

“And I said, ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with my eyes.  It’s the germ factor, Miss.’

“And she gawks at me like I haven’t got my buttons all sewed on, so I explained about menus getting passed to innocent customers when the sneeze gook isn’t dried yet.”

“I’ll bet that impressed her.”

“Pretty much.  She scooted off to find a manager.  And pretty soon, she comes galloping back with one.   ‘Madam, I understand there is a problem with your menu,’ he says in this low, drawly voice.

“‘Not as long as I don’t have to touch it and she reads it to me,’ I replied.  ‘I don’t want to take the chance it has been sneezed on, coughed on, salivated on, or who-knows-what on.  You know, with that swine flu stuff going around, you can’t be too careful.'”

“Ornesta, didn’t you read my post about swine flu?  If you eat enough bratwurst and sauerkraut, there’s nothing to fear.”

“It might not work up here.  It’s probably just a Wisconsin cure.”

“Yeah, well, go on.”

“The guy didn’t say anything — just motions to the waitress to come with him and trots off.  I didn’t know if they were going to feed me or not.  Well, pretty soon the waitress comes back, and she’s got an accessory in her apron pocket — a quart-size can of Lysol.  And she plunks that menu down on the table, empties half a can onto it, flips it over with a slap, and empties most of the other half a can on the back side.  My eyes were fogging up, my nose was burning, and my taste buds felt like I’d swallowed a bottle of bleach.

“And then she says, ‘There!  How’s that?  Would you like me to do your water glass and your napkin for you too?’  And she lets fly with the rest of the can.  ‘Psssssst!'”

“Personally, I think I would have taken my chances with the menu-turned-sneeze-shield in all its contaminated glory.  Lysol decongesting my sinuses doesn’t sound like a good thing.”

“No, and I couldn’t really taste the burger and the bottomless fries very well that day, either.”

“Ornesta, you said I should try your method, rather than closeting myself at home to eat.  Why, after hearing what happened to you, would I want to take your advice?”

“Well, I thought it would give you something interesting to write about.”

(For more Ornesta-related adventures see Simply Ornesta! in the sidebar, under Archives.)

Ornesta’s Christmas

leeannrubsam.com

I love fan mail.  It’s encouraging to hear that other people can relate to my experiences. 

Ornesta Fruggenbotham, of Iron Ore, Michigan, wrote: “I see that you didn’t post any bizarre Christmas stories — again!  Don’t you have any to tell?  Do you want to hear mine?”

“Sure, Ornesta.  I’d love to,” was my prompt reply.  “It’s not that my extended relatives can’t produce plenty of fodder for a good yarn.  But they’d all get awful mad at me if I told on them.  If you’re not afraid to tell on yours, let’s go for it!” 

Y’all might remember Ornesta.  She did a guest appearance in this blog months back, with the story of searching her (not-dead) brother’s house for his corpse.  You can read about it at Hold the Hysteria, Mom!   (Not to worry, home school mother reading this blog to your kiddies for your cultural studies class.  We’re totally family-friendly here.  The tale is bizarre, but not scary.  It will give you a keen insider look at what life is like in Upper Michigan.) 

So, here’s Ornesta’s Christmas memory from yesteryear.  Once again, it’s an “as told to” piece, so if it sounds like my style, it’s because I polished it up for her.  Remember, these are Ornesta’s relatives, not mine

************ 

The four of us got to Mom’s place on Christmas at the traditional 4:00 p.m. and were surprised to find the house already full of all the bodies that normally show up an hour late — plus some fresh ones we’d never seen before.  Apparently Mom had either sprouted a new crop of relatives, or else she had invited a homeless cowboy and his wife home from the grocery store.  

We brought the buns, but everyone had already eaten without us.  Maybe the buns hadn’t been necessary.  Apparently we hadn’t been necessary either.  I steered Mom off into a corner of the kitchen for a private word.  

“Mom!  Who are these people, why are we the last ones here, and why did everyone eat without us?” 

“They’re your brother Sid’s in-laws.  They dropped in unexpectedly, and they decided we should have Christmas at 1:30 instead of 4:00.” 

“Let me get this straight.  Sid’s in-laws drop in unexpectedly, invite themselves to your house, and tell you when to have your Christmas celebration.  Am I smelling the aroma of a  control freak?” 

“I couldn’t refuse to let them in.  They dogsledded all the way from Hibbing across Lake Superior to get here.  Besides, they brought three crock pots full of weenies and beans, Swedish meatballs, and pork hocks drowning in sauerkraut.” 

“I would have had a hard time refusing the Swedish meatballs myself, Mom, but the beanie-weenies and the pork hocks aren’t worth it.  And it’s only December.  The lake doesn’t freeze over solid until January.  I’d ask to see the dogsled before I’d believe that one.  And how come everyone else knew about the time change except us?” 

“I got so flustered I forgot to call you.”  Mom sniffled into her potholder, and it dawned on me that the pork hocks and weenies weren’t adequately compensating for the sudden change in plans after all. 

We made our belated salutations and introductions as best we could.  The cowboy and his wife were quite cordial, and invited us to sit down and make ourselves at home.  There was not a square inch left to fit ourselves into, what with the space they and their Christmas presents occupied, so we graciously declined. 

“That’s all right, we’ll just go sit in the bedroom and eat.  Call us when it’s time to open the gifts.”  

Life was about as delightful as it could get, sitting at our card table in the spare room.  The situation would have made an effective ad for a buffet restaurant: 

“Grandma’s home-cooked ham and potatoes, PLUS three other kinds of meat, including our world famous Minnesota pork hocks, all served in your own elegant private dining room next to the clothes hamper.” 

The food was lukewarm, but the conversation was plenty hot enough.

Having stuffed the intruders’ delicacies, along with our lacerated emotions, into our innards, we rejoined the family circle.  They must be into line dancing or the rodeo, I decided, based on the boots, fringe shirts, and the guy’s flowing mustache.  But if they yodel, I will know it is just an obsession with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry.

I observed that Sid’s father-in-law was remarkably well preserved.  He looked younger than Sid.  It turns out he was.  Mother-in-law, cuddling up to hubby, announced proudly that she had robbed the cradle the second time around.  Father-in-law grinned sheepishly, looking way too handsome for his own good.  I wondered what had attracted him to his adoring old feedbag.  Must have been SOME horse she was riding when they first laid eyes on each other.  Either that or the line dancing had gone to his head. 

Mother-in-law decided to win over my teenager with charming conversation.  “So you’re Ellen!  I’ve heard so much about you!  Stand up, honey. … Five-nine.”

Ellen’s eyes popped.  “Excuse me, ma’am?” 

“You’re five-foot nine.” 

“I’m five-seven … and a quarter.”  Ellen is very sensitive about her height, partly because all the boys in Iron Ore come on the short side.  The severe winters stunt their growth, but our family genes must be dominant over the weather. 

“No, don’t argue.  You’re five-nine.  My other daughter is five-nine, and I’d know.  You’re the same height as she is.  Take off your shoes.  … Yep, still five-nine.” 

We endured through a couple more hours of Christmas pleasantries before escaping.  Ellen obsessed about her height all the way home, whenever she could get a word in edgewise between my snorts over the ham hocks we had just been visiting with — not the ones in the crock pot, either. 

“Ellen, just because the rodeo queen said you are five-nine does not make you five-nine.  You haven’t grown a millimeter in four years.  She may be controlling, but she’s not THAT good.”

She was unconvinced.  We had to haul out the yardstick and measure her when we got home, to set her mind at ease.

************ 

I was confused by the time I finished putting Ornesta’s story together, so I asked, “Ornesta, I thought that in the other story Sid lived all alone.  What happened to the wife?” 

“Oh, I forgot to tell you that part.  She was so happy to see her mama and step-daddy that she decided she couldn’t live without them anymore.  She hopped the dogsled home with them and never came back.  For all I know, they all fell through the ice somewhere on Lake Superior.”

(For more Ornesta-related adventures see Simply Ornesta! in the sidebar, under Archives.)

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