“Hey Scott! Is that you–get in here will you?”
Scott pulled the door shut against the biting December wind and shrugged out of his heavy coat. Briskly rubbing his numb hands together - trying to restore some warmth to his chilled body, Scott followed his brother’s voice into the kitchen.
Scott stopped short in the doorway, placing his hands on either side of the door frame and leaning into the kitchen as if he was afraid to go any further.
Johnny turned from the stove, hollering louder this time, “Scott! I could use some help in here—Oh there you are–well don’t just stand there in the door way; get in here and give me a hand.” At that Johnny pulled his finger out of where it was resting in the lard dish and stuck it in his mouth.
Still not quite able to bring himself to enter the kitchen, Scott continued to stare at his brother and at the wreck that used to be their kitchen. Shaking his head, Scott started to back out and away from the kitchen.
“Thwait, dunt go,” Johnny muttered, his lard covered finger still stuck in his mouth. Seeing Scott’s eyes wandering distractedly about the room - Johnny looked around as if wondering what his brother was seeing. Pulling his finger out of his mouth and sticking it back into the lard dish which he still held in his other hand, Johnny looked at his brother and said impatiently, “What’s the matter - never seen anyone cook before?”
Cocking his head and beginning to grin, Scott stepped fully into the kitchen. “Cooking? Is that what you’re doing? I thought maybe you’d been brawling.” Scott paused and looked around the room again. “Where’s Teresa?” he said suspiciously. “She’s gonna kill you, you know.”
Johnny laid down the lard dish, pulled out his finger and absentmindedly wiped his hands down the front of his leather chaps. “Ow! Damn.” Shaking the offending finger, Johnny popped it back in his mouth. “M makin males,” he calmly stated.
“You’re what!? I can’t understand a word you’re saying,” Scott stared at his brother in mounting frustration.
Johnny looked down at his finger and pulling it out of his mouth, stuck it back in the lard, not noting the look of disgust on Scott’s face as the wet finger plunged back into the lard. “I said, I’m making tamales.”
“Tommelys?” Scott’s response was more of a question - an invitation for his brother to continue his explanation.
Johnny looked at Scott like he was stupid or at least dense. “Tamales, Scott. They’re a Christmas tradition you know. Tonight IS Christmas eve.” He stopped as if that explained everything and started to pop his now greasy finger back into his mouth.
Before the offending digit could make its way back into his mouth, Scott reached forward and grabbed Johnny’s finger, pulling it away from his mouth. “Cut that out - it’s disgusting,” he griped at Johnny, while wrinkling up his eyes and mouth in a look of unmistakable repugnance.
Now both brothers stared at Johnny’s finger and the small blister that had formed on the end of it.
“Burnt it - hurts,” Johnny again explained.
Scott watched as Johnny’s head turned toward the shelves across the room. Pulling his finger out of Scott’s hand, Johnny strode purposefully across the room, his hat bouncing up and down on his back. Reaching the shelves he reached behind a bottle of sherry and pulled down a bottle of tequila.
“Medicine,” he stated happily. Pulling the cork out with his teeth, he proceeded to take a hefty pull from the bottle.
“Ok, now that you’ve had your uh medicine, would you mind explaining again why you’re making this mess, I mean tommleys, in Teresa’s kitchen. Wouldn’t it have been easier to ask Teresa to make these tommley things for you?”
“They’re called ta - mal - es Scott. And they’re wonderful. I had them every Christmas as a little kid. My mama...” He stopped, as if remembering something. “Well anyway, they’re meat, rolled up in masa and oujas.” Seeing Scott’s blank expression, Johnny sighed and tried again. “You cook up the pork, make a batter out of the masa, uh like cornmeal, and wrap them up in the oujas, you know, corn shucks.”
“And then what do you do with them?” Scott asked inquisitively.
“What do you do with them!? You eat them, what do you think you do with them?” Johnny was starting to lose patience with his older brother.
“Uh, ok. But couldn’t Teresa or Maria make them? They can both cook you know,” Scott explained with what he thought made perfect sense.
“Well maybe, I guess. But they’re tricky. You gotta get em just right. ...sides, I wanted to surprise everyone with em,” Johnny stated somewhat sheepishly.
Finally admitting defeat, Scott threw both hands up in the air. “All right then Johnny. What is it you want me to do?”
“Great!” Johnny grinned at his brother. I’ve got the oujas all laid out, I’ll spread the masa and the meat and you roll them up–ok?”
Still not quite sure what his brother wanted him to do, Scott nodded and followed Johnny back to the large wooden table in the center of the kitchen. He noted the corn husks laying out in rows and a bowl of pasty looking stuff along with a platter of cooked pork sitting next to them. “Smells good,” he said with more gusto than he actually felt and plunged his finger into the steaming meat to scoop himself up a bite.
“Ow! Damn that’s hot,” Scott wailed as he snatched his hand back, tossing bits of meat all over the table.
Johnny nodded knowingly and handed the bottle of tequila to his brother. “Medicine,” he stated matter-of-factly. “Kills the pain.”
Scott took a small sip, then shrugged and took another. “Thanks.”
The boys then proceeded to build the tamales.
“This is pretty easy,” Scott looked up at his brother as he reached for the knife so he could slice off some extra ouja.
“Watch out Scott!” Johnny warned too late as Scott poked the knife tip into his finger. “Just sharpened that knife,” Johnny explained too late.
Scott stared at his finger and the few drops of blood that trickled from the end and popped the finger into his mouth.
“Here, better have some more medicine,” Johnny held the bottle out to Scott.
Nodding, Scott took another hefty draw from the bottle. “Thanks brother.” He handed the bottle back to Johnny who winced slightly as his burnt finger touched the bottle. “Looks like that’s still hurting,” Scott noted. “Better take some more medicine yourself.”
Johnny nodded and tipped the bottle up, shaking his head slightly as the burning liquid made it’s way down his throat.
Finishing up the last of the tamales Scott looked around the room and sighed. “Guess we’d better get this mess cleaned up before Teresa gets home.”
“Yeah sure,” Johnny nodded in absentminded agreement. He picked up the now empty meat platter and headed towards the sink. His spur caught and he slipped on the tile floor bumping his knee on the table causing him to drop the platter which shattered into a million pieces. As Johnny rubbed his knee and stared at the pieces of pottery shards on the flood, Scott silently handed him the “medicine bottle”.
“Sanks Thcott,” Johnny said as he took another drink from the now half empty bottle.
“Ss ok,” Scott answered. “Teresa should keep this kitchen cleaner, this floor is slicker ‘n snot, someone could get hurt,” Scott gave his brother a big grin and then bent down to pick up the pieces of the broken platter. Losing his balance, Scott plopped butt first onto the floor. “Oooops,” Scott laughed as he looked up at Johnny.
Johnny gave his brother an equally dumb grin as he handed the bottle down to him. “Here, methinin.”
Scott took the bottle from his brother and took another long swallow, grinning stupidly as it sloshed down his shirt front.
“Hey! My thfnger thtill hurts, don’t wathte it!” Johnny grabbed for the bottle but lost his balance and plopped down unceremoniously next to his brother.
“Yeaow!!” Johnny staggered back up, one hand tipping the bottle up to his mouth the other reaching back to pull a large pottery shard out of the rear end of his jeans.
“More Medithin,” Scott nodded knowingly up at his brother.
“Uh uh,” was Johnny’s reply as he sucked out the last drops from the “medicine bottle.”
Scott grabbed the edge of the table and pulled himself up. “Fnger thtill hurts,” he said as he slid into a chair. “Medithin gone,” he glared at Johnny accusingly.
“Ssok. I’ll theck, I mean check, the medithin cabinenent,” Johnny informed his brother as he stumbled towards the shelves and returned somewhat wobbily with the bottle of sherry.
“Oh no! My kitchen, my kitchen!”
Murdoch hurried into the kitchen, alarmed at Teresa’s distraught voice. He abruptly stopped at the doorway, putting both hands out on the doorframe as if to physically keep himself from entering the room. “What the hell?!” Murdoch’s gaze took in everything... Teresa standing in the middle of the room looking around in bewilderment; his sons–dressed for the range–passed out at the kitchen table, an empty bottle of cooking sherry between them, an empty bottle of tequila on the floor, pots, pans and food scattered everywhere and mounds of something stacked around them on the table.
Shaking his head in both confusion and disgust Murdoch took two long strides over to the table and poked at Scott’s shoulder. Scott looked up groggily at his father and held up his scratched finger. “Cut it. Need more medithin? he asked hopefully. Watching as Scott’s head fell forward onto the table, Murdoch turned to his other son and shook his shoulder. “Johnny? What’s the meaning.... He stopped as Johnny looked up at him, smiling. “Pa? I made ‘males. For Kwistmas.” Murdoch felt his anger melt away as he looked down at his youngest son.
“Tamales?” Murdoch looked around the table - for the first time noticing the tamales lined up on the table. He sniffed and his smile widened as he got a far off look in his eyes. “Maria. Your mama made tamales each Christmas. I’d forgotten. He reached down and tentatively picked one up. Looking at the tamale, then back to his son, he took a small bite. A warm smile spread across his face as he took a larger bite and then placed his large hand on Johnny’s dark head. “Thanks son.”
Murdoch stepped quietly back and noticed Teresa curiously watching him. Smiling quietly at her, he took her right hand and with his left handed her a tamale. Then he began to pull her gently from the room.
“But Murdoch,” she started to protest. “This mess, I have to...”
“No Teresa, let it wait,” he told her quietly. The boys can clean this up later. Let’s go into the dining room.”
“No, now come on. While you eat, I’ll tell you a story about Johnny’s first Christmas and Maria’s ‘males...”
As they left the kitchen, Murdoch turned back once more to glance at his two sons and smile. Pa. His son had called him Pa. And the tamales. It was going to be a good Christmas - and he was sure there was going to be a heck of a story to hear once his sons sobered up.