Once again it is time to warn all the good little boys and girls about this story. What? You don't want to be warned? That's okay; just skip the warning and move on to the chapter.
For any minor reading this, you really should not be doing so. It is not that I care whether or not you read the story, but rather that you might get in trouble for breaking laws. Yes, there are some really silly laws against people under specific ages reading what they wish to read. Are those laws successful? Highly doubtful as I remember reading many things--that the laws prohibited--simply because there were laws against it. Honestly, most of it was as poorly written as this story, but I read it anyway because it was daring and thrilling to be doing something I was not supposed to be doing. Did it ruin me to read such awful stories? You'll have to be the judge of that although I'm sure there are some people who think it did.
One of the reasons minors are prohibited from reading this story is that sometimes I remember to throw in some descriptions of SEX. Even worse, GAY sex. Now you do understand that sex is natural and that it is going to take place no matter how many people think it should be banned. Yes I know, they are only trying to keep young people from participating in sex and they even can make some good arguments about the fact that young people are not ready to assume the responsibilities of sex. They use arguments like how difficult it is for young people to raise a child should their sexual activity result in children, but really, this is a gay story and unless I failed biology I don't think that pregnancies and children are problems that accompany gay sex. If those people were serious about protecting children from the problems associated with children having children at a young age I would suggest that they should be encouraging gay sex because it is a given that young people are going to have sex when they decide to have sex, and nothing that anyone can say will stop them. While that only addresses one group against stories of this type, the others operate on equally silly ideas. I mean really, if the thoughts of reading about sex upset you, then you should not do sex and somehow I doubt that all the prudes are suddenly going to stop. End result, if you are starting to get the idea that I think all those people running around and complaining about people reading stories of this sort are nuts, congratulations. You are much smarter than those people are. Anyhow, I suppose I need to warn you that if you continue to read you may encounter descriptions of sex, so if that offends you leave now.
This story is complete fiction. It is not based on real people or real events. While it may be true that some people wish it was, such is not the case. Instead it is based solely upon my imagination.
This story is posted for your enjoyment and as such may be downloaded and read. However that does not give anyone the right to use this story in a commercial manner or to claim it as their own.
Again I pay tribute to my editor who casts his weary eye over the chapter and tries to spot my mistakes. His is an unpaid position and he does it only to help you, the reader, make sense out of what I have written. So give a big thank you to Don. Without his efforts reading this story would likely leave you scratching your heads trying to figure out what I was trying to say.
As usual you may send criticisms, complaints, questions, and comments to email@example.com I'll try to answer them when I have time, but I do confess that things have been busy on my end and I am still trying to get my inbox cleared up. And so I have reached the end of the warning and disclaimer and now you can get on with reading the story.
I Love Corey, Chapter One Hundred and Seven
Sometimes the fear was so overpowering that I wasn't sure I could survive if I lost Corey, but other times I was afraid that our relationship was harming him. Every child deserves to be loved, but not the way I loved Corey. While I thought of Corey as my child in many ways, I also thought of him as my mate and had done so since the time I stepped over the line with him. Yet I worried that I had forced a decision upon him that he was too young to understand or make. As I stood at the sink and fumbled with the washcloth, tears were streaming down my face. What if I was harming him emotionally? What if our relationship would leave him with emotional scars and destroy his future happiness? Those fears were the same ones I had suffered many times as I lay beside him after he had fallen asleep. Yet I had no answer for them.
Corey was obviously much happier now than the boy I had fallen in love with, but at what cost? Would today's happiness result in tomorrow's depression? Could he develop into a confident adult in his present circumstances or would he remain an emotional boy, trapped in a relationship he was tired of but didn't know how to end. I knew there were good reasons for the laws against relationships between adults and young people because young people didn't have the experience to base their decisions on, but I was also trapped, a victim of my own emotions. While I loved the boy he was, I sometimes felt like I couldn't wait for him to become the adult I knew he could be. I wasn't in love with Corey because he was a boy, but I was in love with the person I was sure he would be.
Our initial sexual encounter had been a major mistake on my part. While I had often admired boys, it had never been with the idea of having a sexual relationship with one. Instead I thought they were cute, much like puppies or kittens are cute. I enjoyed being around them and watching them learn and develop and that wasn't restricted to boys. I found it just as satisfying to observe girls advance along the path to adulthood, but I understood boys better while girls were in many ways a mystery. Now I had a bunch of boys to love and watch out for, but only Corey excited any sexual response from me. I loved JJ, and LT, and Kyle, and Mark, and now David, but I didn't want to get them in bed. In fact I would have pushed them out of bed even though I knew that JJ would be considered cute by anyone, and the rest of the boys ranged from the boy next door to quite attractive. To me they were like looking at girls; I was capable of judging how attractive they were, but I had no desire to have sexual relations with them. Instead I wanted to help them grow up. I wanted to supply them with a safe and nurturing place to discover themselves and develop the skills to cope with adulthood. While I wanted that for Corey, I wanted much more for him and from him. I wanted him to grow into the person I thought he would be and I wanted him to love me. I knew that was selfish, but I couldn't help myself.
I had considered asking Judy to find another place for Corey to live, but had always held off because I was afraid that he would feel rejected. Now that was no longer an option because of the adoption and so I was stuck, worried that our relationship was harmful to him, but not having a good answer on what to do. One mistake by me had cascaded into a major problem for which I had no answers. Some people would say I had let my little head rule my big one, but deep down I thought that I had let my heart rule me. My heart had fallen in love long before my mind caught on and I had acted because I had fallen in love. In the end I simply had no idea if our relationship would cause Corey to remain a child in his emotional outlook. While he sometimes surprised me with his maturity, in many reactions he was still a child and I was afraid that he would always consider himself a child when it came to our relationship. I didn't know how to solve that problem and was afraid that the time would come when I would be forced to act like a young bird's parents; in short, kick him out of the nest to learn to fly or die and I wasn't at all confident that I could do that even though I knew he had to be able to govern his own life. I didn't want an emotionally crippled Corey who had to depend upon me. I wanted a Corey who was willing to stand up for what he wanted and needed, yet I was afraid that I might not be included in his needs if he became the confident person I was hoping for.
I finally calmed down and quit crying. The cold washcloths had kept my eyes from looking too much like I'd been crying and a few eye drops eliminated enough of the redness to where I didn't think anyone would notice. It was time to get back and see what the boys had decided.
The boys were still arguing over which house plan they liked the best and had actually gotten further apart on their selection. Now they no longer agreed on the L shaped one and instead seemed to like the idea of two separate houses with one setting below the other. A little questioning and I learned the reason for the change, parking space in the garage. By building two separate houses there would be more garage stalls and they wanted the room for the cars they did not yet have. They had it all figured out that Kath could get by with three stalls, one for her, one for Danny, and one for Andrea. However, on my house they were trying to find room for an eight car garage. Even Mark wanted a space and he was four years away from a license. They had it all figured out that they would each have a car and I had two, so eight was the minimum number of stalls needed and they weren't averse to having a few extra stalls for bicycles and other odds and ends.
"Good Lord," I told them. "At the rate you guys are going we're going to have a garage big enough to operate an auto dealership. Don't you think you could get by with fewer cars and perhaps share them?"
Needless to say, that wasn't what they wanted to hear. I had turned from a tolerated parent-figure into the most evil person in existence because of a few simple words.
"But maybe we want to go different places," LT immediately chimed in.
"Yeah," JJ followed his boyfriend so quickly that it sounded like one longer sentence. "What if I want to go to the mall and LT wants to go to the park?
Before I know what was happening all except David had voiced their opposition to my suggestion and he simply looked sad.
"Look guys," I said, trying to get control of the situation. "Cars cost money and you won't always want to go different places. With a little planning you can get by with fewer cars and have more money to spend on other things."
For that comment I got glared at, however the doorbell saved me from further anger and I left to answer it. I was thrilled to see Bob because I could now stall while I tried to come up with better arguments to use against them.
Bob and Corey went to Corey's room to continue with his lessons and I told the rest of the boys they needed to set the table for dinner. There was little conversation amongst them, but their glares at me continued unabated while they got out the dishes and quickly set the table. If looks could kill I would have been safely buried by the time they finished. Even Trey no longer had that happy expression he'd been wearing, and had I not known better I would have sworn that he was one of mine. It was not like our decision would personally affect him, yet he seemed to fit right in with the kids against parent mime. Perhaps he had been planning to use us as an argument against his parents.
Since I was in the boy's doghouse, I mucked around in the kitchen while they drifted towards the family room, the better to plot against me I suppose. The problem with that was that there wasn't much I could do with the dinner until the beans were done, so mostly I fidgeted. In about fifteen minutes I was rescued by the arrival of Trey's parents.
I don't know why, but in most couples there is one dominate personality, or at least one who appears more dominate. In the Eagan's case it was Mrs. Eagan who took over and controlled the conversation while her husband appeared content to sit back and listen. I offered them a drink and soon I was being filled in about her husband's occupation, her various articles, and their life in general. As she babbled on Henry simply sat there enjoying his drink. Finally Mrs. Eagan ran down for a second and Henry inserted himself in the conversation.
"Didn't I see you on the news a while back? I think it was something about appearing before the legislature. How in the world did you ever get involved in that?"
"Well," I started. "A while back I attended a dinner and, without knowing who he was, shot my mouth off about education in the state before a state representative. Then he introduced himself as Rep. Philson, and we got acquainted while I explained some of what I had been talking about. He requested that I attend a hearing they were holding, and the whole thing got out of hand when one of the members of the committee tried to push me around. There were a couple of reporters there and that's why I made the news. You know how it is, reporters are always looking for any conflicts to report on, and they thought I was newsworthy because it had been apparent that I wasn't getting along with one member of the committee.
"Anyhow, how do you like our little area?" I asked when I had finished explaining about my appearance before the Education Committee.
"What do you mean `tried to push you around'?" Mrs. Eagan jumped back into the conversation before Mr. Eagan could say anything. "There was no mention of any conflict on the news."
"Well it wasn't really much of a conflict. They asked some questions about my opinions on some subjects, and one member of the committee then acted sarcastic and patronizing when he questioned me on them. Since I don't like to be demeaned or looked down upon, I decided to respond in a fawning manner. That upset him about as much as his attitude upset me and he became more belligerent as his questioning went on. Eventually his party head told him to calm it and after that things went pretty well. In fact I got requests from a couple of members of the committee for explanations on some of what was covered and I've just finished the first one. I doubt that my answers will affect anything, but who knows."
"Now Dora, you don't look for stories to write about when you are a guest for dinner," Mr. Eagan admonished his wife. "Sam doesn't strike me as the type that is seeking publicity and he probably would prefer to remain in the background."
I hadn't even considered that our conversation might become part of a story. Boy, Mr. Eagan had nailed it right on the head about me wishing to remain in the background, but before I could figure out what to say Mrs. Eagan said, "Oh don't worry, I'm just trying to get acquainted and won't write anything about you without first warning you. I don't really approve of ambush journalism.
"But really, I find it fascinating that a young school teacher in a rural area would get called to testify. You must have made quite an impression on Rep. Philson." Mrs. Eagan finished up.
I didn't know how to answer that, so I stumbled around trying to explain that I'd only said what I thought at the dinner and that apparently Rep. Philson thought that it was a side of the debate that needed to be heard. The conversation drifted on to other topics and I finally remembered to inform the Eagan's that I had some other guest coming for dinner. About then I decided it was time to check the beans and offered the Eagan's a refill on their drinks while I was up. After I had fixed their second drinks, the beans were ready to assemble into the cassoulet.
I put the sliced pork roasts, the sliced ham, and the sautéed sausages into the bottom of the roaster. Then I drained the beans, added some diced canned tomatoes, some chopped onion, the sliced and sautéed mushrooms, three cloves of minced garlic and mixed them together and poured it over the meats and the whole thing was finished with the addition of a couple of packages of boiling onions that I'd cooked in some chicken stock and water. A bouquet garni consisting of three bay leaves, five sprigs of thyme and four sprigs of rosemary tied together with string was inserted and I added some of the liquid the beans were cooked in to bring the liquid up to where it about covered everything and popped it in the oven. I'd let it bake until it got bubbly for several minutes and then add the breadcrumbs to top it. Once the breadcrumbs were on it would only take about fifteen minutes for them to brown and the cassoulet would be ready to serve. About then it dawned on me that by putting the breadcrumbs on I would not be able to serve it on a platter. I decided to skip the breadcrumbs. Had it just been for the boys and myself we could dig it out of the roaster, but guests required that I serve it a little nicer. Oh well, the breadcrumbs would keep for a few days by putting them in the refrigerator, so I got out a plastic container and put them in it and into the fridge. It wasn't really that I was trying to be fancy, but only by putting it on a platter would people be able to tell what meat they were taking.
I had just put the cassoulet in the oven when Bob came into the room. He accepted my offer of a drink and I mixed it after I had introduced him to the Eagan's. By the time I had Bob's drink made and served it to him, he and Mr. Eagan were conversing about Mr. Eagan's occupation, that of a photographer and instructor of photography. While Mrs. Eagan had mentioned that her husband did all the photographs appearing in her articles, nothing had come up about him instructing photography so it was with much interest that I listened in on their conversation. While I knew some about photography, my knowledge was what a hobbyist would pick up and not what a professional would be expected to know. I was wondering if I should try to get lessons for Corey when Mr. Eagan said, "Photography isn't like art in most respects, but when you look deeper it is all about art."
"Exactly Henry," Bob replied. "In many ways a photographer has to have a better understanding of art to get good images than an artist does because the photographer has to work with reality whereas the artist can make his own reality."
We all continue to learn throughout our lives, and the conversation between Bob and Henry had added to my knowledge and understanding. Occasionally I would take a picture that turned out the way I wanted it to, but mostly I got snapshots. As my skill had grown, the snapshots became more technically correct, but they were still snapshots. Very rarely did I take a picture that captured what I was feeling when I took it and now I understood why. It was as simple as the fact that I wasn't artistically inclined. While I could take pictures which were better exposed than Corey's, his were better than mine because he captured more of a mood in his. I was too logical and methodical while Corey understood things on an emotional level, and he did so far better than I ever could or would. While I could sometimes recognize art, I was incapable of producing it except by accident, whereas Corey instinctively recognized the art in any given scene and attempted to capture it. While he wasn't always successful in capturing it, he came much closer than I ever would.
When I looked up from my musings about art, I saw Bob and the Eagans looking expectantly at me. "What?" I asked.
Bob grinned and answered, "We were wondering what world you were on."
I could feel my face getting red as I searched for an answer. "Uhm, I think I just discovered the difference between art and snapshots," I mumbled. I continued, "I think I understand why people regard Adams and Weston as artists now. It wasn't because their pictures were beautifully exposed, or incredibly sharp, or even that they did masterful jobs of printing them, but rather that they captured a sense of grandness or wonder about the subject of their photographs. Edward Weston did it with his photograph of a cabbage. You could see the wonder of nature in his picture of a cabbage, all the leaves growing in their assigned places and patterns and how they fit together to form a whole. Adams' did it with his pictures of Yosemite. He captured the breathtaking beauty and majesty of Yosemite Park."
"Very good," Bob said. "We might yet make you a connoisseur of art, given enough time. Now do you see the reason for the differences in the price for those painting's of Corey's?" Bob was of course referring to the paintings Corey had taken to the art workshop in Eugene.
I paused before answering him. "Not really. I still think the lesser valued one is the better of the two, or at least the more salable one. I see it appealing to a broader range of people."
"Oh I agree that it would appeal to a broader range of people. However, it lacks the emotional impact of the one of you," Bob replied. "In some ways I see that picture as reminiscent of Van Gogh's `The Potato Eaters.' Like Van Gogh at that stage of his career, Corey still doesn't possess sufficient technical skills to make it a masterpiece, but like Van Gogh he captures the scene to where you can almost feel you are seeing the scene through his eyes, and feel what he felt when he painted it. That's not to say he will ever be another Van Gogh or that that picture is comparable to The Potato Eaters, but he shows traces of true brilliance. My goal is to help him learn to express that brilliance."
About that time I think both Bob and I noticed that the Eagans had lightly puzzled looks on their faces. "Sam," Bob asked, "Do you think Corey would mind showing Dora and Henry that painting?"
"I don't know, but it won't take long to find out." With that I got up and went to the family room where Corey had joined the other boys.
"Corey, would you mind showing the Eagans some of your paintings?" I asked.
I didn't exactly get an answer, but Corey almost bounded up and headed for the living room, all the while exhibiting a big grin. I took that grin to mean yes. Just as we entered the living room the doorbell rang. It was Carl and Ellen.
The introductions went somewhat quicker than I would have imagined because Ellen had met Dora at the market, but that still left introducing Carl and Henry to those who hadn't yet met them. Once that was taken care of, and another round of drinks mixed and served, it was off to Corey's bedroom to look at paintings. Needless to say it was crowded there because not only were all the adults present, but so were the boys because they couldn't stand to have anything take place that they were not part of. Add in that the bedroom was somewhat messy because of the just completed lesson and I was left hoping that the Eagans and the Downies wouldn't think things were always in this much disarray. At least the bed was made, although since he never slept there it never got messed up to need making, but they didn't know that. The main problem was stretched canvases all over, some leaning against walls and others hung on the walls. Some were paintings or partially completed paintings, but others were example of various techniques that Bob was teaching Corey. Ever so often Corey would take a bunch of the practice canvases and paint them white so they could be used again, but at the present time there was a bunch that needed that done, and they were scattered everywhere.
While Corey headed for his closet to dig out what he considered completed paintings, Mr. Eagan seemed drawn to the ones leaning against the walls, the ones Corey thought of as practice and not good enough to save. Bob and Mr. Eagan were conversing in low tones about various aspects of those painting and I heard snippets of their conversation, phrases like `his technique needs work there,' and `he didn't manage to make that idea work.' In many ways Corey's art had never made sense to me. He would relegate a painting to the discard pile that I thought pretty good, then turn around and save one that I saw nothing in. Many of those along the walls I deemed pleasing to the eye, yet Corey considered them nothing more the attempts to master a given technique. In fact, sometimes I wondered about what either he or Bob saw in a given painting. They often liked the ones I considered weird; paintings full of strange colors and oddly twisted figures.
"Henry's father was an instructor in art before he quit to take up sculpture full time," Mrs. Eagan said, breaking my musings about my lack of understanding of art. "His mother opened a small gallery to sell her husband's work, and the gallery grew to where both of them are now involved in it. While William still does some work in sculpture, most of his time is spent finding new artists to display, so it's a shame that he isn't here to see Corey's work."
Without thinking I replied, "The next time he visits give us a call and we can have all of you over so he can see it."
Mrs. Eagan chuckled. "Before you invite him over maybe you should let Henry offer his opinion. William can come across as little on the intense side, and sometimes he doesn't realize how his comments will be taken. The more he likes something, the more criticism he offers of it. He's left many a budding artist in tears because of that trait, but he gets so wrapped up with what he considers a promising artist that he forgets they don't know what to make of his comments. You can always tell if he thinks an artist shows promise by the length of time he spends explaining what is wrong with the work, but if you don't know that about him it can be very discouraging. If Henry thinks his father should see the work he'll tell Corey how to react to him."
About then Corey placed a painting on his easel. It was one of those I didn't care for. I mean really, how can you like a painting done mainly in shades of red and orange with figures that were more appropriate to nightmares? In the lower left was a small area that contained a small stick-like figure in shades of blue, standing alongside what looked like an "L." It made me shiver every time I looked at it and I kept hoping that someday Corey would simply paint over it and be done with it.
All conversation died and I noticed all the boys, except for Corey, started leaving the room. Outside of Trey, all had seen Corey's painting before and since nothing that interested them was happening, they saw no reason to stick around. They had only come to make sure they didn't miss anything.
Silence descended on the room and everyone's attention was now on the picture. Mr. Eagan walked over to the easel and turned it slightly so that the light from the window struck it better. He then stepped back a few steps and started studying the painting from different angles, moving to the right or left as though he was searching for something within the painting.
"When'd you paint that one?" Bob asked. "I haven't seen it before."
"During the trial of Rev. Langston," Corey replied.
After a pause Bob said, "Oh, I get it now. Very good. I can feel the anger in it, but I didn't know who or what it was directed at."
"Who's Rev. Langston?" Henry asked. "And why is he the object of a painting?"
Before I could say anything Bob and Corey started filling Mr. Eagan in on our problems with the Reverend. Soon the three of them were not only talking about Rev. Langston, but also the painting and what it represented. I decided it was time to check on dinner, so I headed for the kitchen. They were way over my head in with their discussion of art.
I opened the oven to check on the cassoulet and it looked like it was bubbling nicely. A few more minutes would finish it up so I turned to Mrs. Eagan, who had followed me, and commented, "Looks like dinner will be ready in a few minutes." I wasn't ready for her answer.
"What did you do with my boy?" she asked. "I haven't seen him smile this much in a couple of years. Did you get a chance to talk with him and what did he say?"
"I'm sorry, but I didn't get a chance to converse with him. As for the smiling, I think he's just happy to have found a friend," I replied.
"A friend?" Mrs. Eagan said questioningly, with her eyebrows rising.
"Well, maybe a good friend," I replied. "While I didn't have time to talk with him, I think we might have a serious case of lust developing. If you paid any attention to Kyle, he has also grinning the whole time you've been here."
Mrs. Eagan got a surprised look on her face. "No, I hadn't noticed. I was so surprised to see Trey grinning and associating with other boys that I was busy watching him."
"Would it upset you if Trey and Kyle became more friendly?" I asked.
"Oh no," she replied. "Henry and I have talked about Trey and both of us just want him to be happy."
"Well, let's give it a little time and see what develops," I answered. "Right now I think they are still getting acquainted. In the meantime I need to finish up dinner or we may never eat."
"So I take it that Kyle is gay," Mrs. Eagan said.
"It isn't my place to say yes or no, but you can draw your own conclusions from their actions," I answered.
Mrs. Eagan smiled. "I don't have to draw any conclusions because you pretty well answered the question with your somewhat cryptic answer."
Of course Mrs. Eagan was right. The way I had answered was a dead giveaway as to what the answer was, but there was no other way I could think of to answer a question like that. I didn't feel comfortable outing Kyle, and I didn't want to lie to Mrs. Eagan, so those two things had produced the answer I had given. From the way the earlier part of the conversation had gone, there could be little doubt that Kyle was indeed gay.
"Well, I need to get dinner ready to serve," I said, breaking that thread of conversation. "Why don't you go get the adults and I'll round up the kids and we can eat."
Mrs. Eagan headed for Corey's room to tell the adults and Corey dinner was ready, and I stuck my head in the family room and told the boys to wash up. There was an explosion of boy activity as they rushed to the bathrooms to wash their hands. I was lucky I wasn't trampled to death under their wild dash.
I made it back to the kitchen, but realized I was faced with a problem. Normally I served a cassoulet by putting the roaster on the table and letting the boys dig through it in search of what they wanted. That involved boys standing up and leaning over the table to reach the roaster. I didn't want guests to have to eat in such an informal manner and while I had left the breadcrumbs off for serving purposes, I hadn't considered what to serve it in. So I franticly started looking through the cupboards for dishes that would hold the amount of food I'd prepared. I ended up with two platters of meat and a punch bowl full of the bean and tomato mix which I stirred some freshly chopped parsley into. I wasn't sure that a punch bowl was the proper bowl to use, but it was the only thing I had that big that was not a stainless bowl and I thought glass would be more attractive. As I was digging the meat out of the roaster I realized I had forgotten a vegetable. It was too late to do anything about that so I would have to let the tomatoes in the cassoulet be the vegetable. I had put the Baguettes in the oven after I took the cassoulet out, so they would be nice and warm, but now I discovered I didn't have a bowl large enough for the salad and was down to using one of my big stainless bowls. Jeez, I would have been better off to use the punch bowl for the salad and the stainless one for the beans. Somewhere my planning had gotten all screwed up.
At least something was going right and that was that Corey was busily uncorking a couple bottles of wine. I started putting platter and bowls on the table and hoped that the dinner would conceal the dishes it was served in, or at least mitigate their impact. I needed some bigger serving dishes, but I'd never worried about it before because the only times I had cooked big meals were for family occasions or picnic type meals for parents and students and I wasn't out to make a good impression on my relatives and parents didn't expect nice serving dishes at picnics.
The cassoulet seemed to go over well and I was shocked at that amount of it that was eaten. While I knew the boys would have seconds, all the adults did also. That left dessert and Downey's had had a white cake with a lemon filling for sale and I'd grabbed it. While I was cutting the cake, Corey replaced the wine glasses with Champaign Flutes and opened a couple bottles of sparkling wine. It wasn't a true Champaign, but was more like a Prosecco and complimented the cake filling.
People hadn't sat where I had thought they would. Corey, Bob, and Mr. Eagan had been sitting together and carried on their own conversation all during dinner. That left the rest of us to form two other groups. In my group were Ellen, Dora, and Carl, and the boys formed the other group. That meant there were three distinct conversations going on and I missed what the others groups were talking about while listening mostly to Ellen worm information out of Dora.
This was the first time I had observed Ellen extracting information. She was a master at it and never seemed to be prying. Instead it was like she treated you as the most important person in the world and was interested in what you were doing and what you thought. Always before I had been on the receiving end and had never had time to analyze her in action, but tonight I learned why Ellen always seemed to know what was going on. She made everyone feel so important that they would share information with her. Yet all the while Dora was talking to Ellen, she kept sneaking peeks at Trey who was laughing and giggling with the rest of the boys.
When we had finished dinner the boys jumped up and started cleaning up the table. Trey pitched right in and helped just like all the rest of the boys. He was kind of awkward in that he wasn't used to working with them, but soon he had his hands in soapy water and was scrubbing pots and pans while the rest of the boys managed to get the leftover food put away and load the dishwasher. I was trying to follow about three different conversations when suddenly I noticed that Bob and Henry were gone. Another glance told me Corey was also missing.
The kitchen was looking pretty good so we retired to other parts of the house. The adults headed for the living room while the boys staked out the family room. I wondered what Bob and Henry were telling Corey, but I had other guests to attend to so I stifled my curiosity and visited with Carl, Ellen, and Dora.
I wasn't paying a lot of attention and suddenly it dawned on me that Dora had turned the tables on Ellen and was getting just as much out of her as she had gotten earlier from Dora. Then I noticed Carl smirking. "Come on Carl, let's get the coffee and cups and serve the ladies," I said.
As we were putting the cups on a tray Carl was giggling. "First time I ever saw Ellen have the same thing happen to her as she does to everyone else," he snickered. "Usually she is the one prying information out of others and now the shoe is on the other foot. That Dora is one smooth operator."
"Yeah," I chuckled. "Ellen never seems to give me a chance to ask her anything, but boy can she sure extract information from me."
"You know she only does that with people she likes," Carl said, becoming serious.
I smiled and replied, "I figured that out a long time ago. If I didn't want to share with her I wouldn't, but your wife is such a nice person and seems so genuinely interested that it is pretty easy to tell her most anything."
We finished getting the cups on the trey and headed back for the living room. Dora and Ellen were still chatting only now it appeared that they were taking turns sharing information, Ellen about the community and Dora about the areas where she and Henry had lived.
We visited for probably another twenty minutes before Bob and Henry joined us. As they walked in, Henry said, "Honey, Dad has got to see Corey's paintings. He'll go nuts over them. We need to get him up here as soon as possible."
"You think so?" Dora replied.
"Oh I know so. The only problem I see is will Dad kidnap him so he can teach him?"
Something about my expression on hearing that caused Henry to add, "Don't worry Sam, Dad's never kidnapped anyone. I was joking. However, he will be jealous of Bob and wish he could trade places with him."
"Does your father ever teach anymore?" Bob asked Henry. "I met him a few times back when he was still teaching, but never had a chance to take any courses from him."
"No, he's given that up so he can devote full time to his sculpture. He complains about not teaching, but he wouldn't give up his sculpture in order to go back to it. Back when he was teaching he complained about his students, so I think it's a matter of the grass looking greener on the other side of the fence. Now he only remembers the things about teaching that he enjoyed and forgets all the things he complained about while he was doing it. Besides, he makes a lot more money from his sculptures than he ever did teaching," Henry replied. "He also enjoys not having a schedule he has to adhere to, so I don't think there is any way he could be talked back into teaching. As it is now he can spend a day doodling around and have nothing to interfere with it. Dad always did hate schedules. He complained they interrupted his creative thoughts. Dad's a free spirit and loves being able to do whatever strikes his fancy at a given moment. Mom is the one who takes care of the details and allows him that freedom. I'm not sure he would remember to eat without Mom reminding him."
"He'd starve to death if he had to eat his own cooking," Dora laughed. "You need to understand Sam, we always knew what gifts to give Henry's parents because they always needed new cookware. William would start cooking something and forget it. I don't know how many pots and pans he burned up, but I'm surprised he didn't burn their house down. Finally Susan made him promise to stay out of the kitchen and now we have to find other gifts for holidays and their birthdays."
"Remember the time we bought the two sets of All-Clad because they were on sale and thought we had solved Christmas for two years?" Henry asked while chuckling. "The second set didn't even make the Fourth of July before we had given it to them and part of it was destroyed. We finally gave up and bought cheap cookware because Dad was going to ruin it anyway. Then there was that set they bought with the aluminum plates on the bottom. That worked out well because he dug the melted aluminum from the frying pan out of the stove and with a little polishing sold it for five times as much as the whole set cost."
"I didn't know you could destroy All-Clad," I said. "I've got some of it and it has always cleaned up beautifully even after I burned things pretty badly."
"Normal people can't, but Dad is an exception," Henry laughed. "He could destroy an anvil if he could get it close to a stove. Yet when he keeps his mind on it, Dad's a pretty decent cook."
"Oh yes," Dora said. "Your mother's cooking doesn't come close to what your Dad can do, but someone has to stand right there and keep his attention on it. I find it easier to cook it myself than try to keep him on the ball."
By now both Dora and Henry were laughing as they told about the times Henry's father had ruined dinner or destroyed pots or pans. They had obviously told the stories before because they had it down to what would pass for a pretty good comedy act. In fact, I had heard comedians do a lot worse than they did. Even though they were poking fun at Henry's father, it was obvious that they both loved him. It was also obvious that they loved each other from the way they interacted. After a number of stories about the disasters of the kitchen, the conversation went on to other topics. Somewhere along the way David's missing hand came up and soon I was filling them in on when he would get his prosthesis and about the tutor I'd engaged to try to bring his reading level up. Of course the funeral for his mother and brother got mentioned and I was surprised when the Eagans asked about the time and indicated they would be attending. My last call to Uncle Matt had produced that same result so there were going to be several people there to support him as best they could. I had been to a couple of funerals where there were few mourners and it always seemed sad that the departed had few friends to mourn them. Hopefully there would be enough people in attendance that David would never feel that way.
As the evening wore on conversation flowed and I was surprised when Carl and Ellen said it was getting late and they needed to head home. They thanked me for, in their words, a great dinner and with that said their goodbyes. They were no more than out the door when the Eagans said it was time to get Trey home because he was extremely difficult to awaken unless he'd had a good nights sleep. We laughed and agreed that most kids are like that and getting them moving in the morning frequently borders on almost impossible. By the time they had left it was just past nine and the boys were starting to run down also. I thought about making another stab at discussing the house plans, but since they had forgotten their anger at me over the car issue I decided to let sleeping dogs lie. Getting them wound up on that again would only make it more difficult for them to get to sleep and that wasn't even taking into consideration how I would feel about it. Besides, maybe I could come up with better arguments before our next round. I simply could not see the need for each boy to have his own car and needed to marshal my arguments which I hoped would convince them. Even if I was successful with that I would only be getting a short delay of a couple of years because I was quite certain that once they headed off to college automobiles would again be up for discussion.
Boys started checking the fridge for snacks as I emptied the dishwasher. It really was sort of funny because they would open the door and then bend over as if expecting some forgotten goody to be hiding in the bottom of the fridge. Watching them caused me to need to suppress an almost irresistible urge to use the dishtowel as a weapon, what with all the boy butts lining up as targets. At least there was enough of the cassoulet left to make my lunch for tomorrow.
With their hunger once again assuaged, boys started heading for their bedrooms. I knew their homework was completed because I had insisted on them doing that Friday evening, so all that was left was for them to get a good night's sleep and be ready to start another week of school. The school year was winding down and I hoped that things would calm down during the summer and that I could get better organized for next year. On that I had some doubts because of the changes in my teaching assignments, but hopefully I would be faster at making lesson plans for those classes than I was when I first started teaching. It seemed like all I did, the first year I taught, was work on lesson plans during every minute I was not actually teaching. By comparison this year had been a breeze because I was a lot more comfortable in my ability to instruct, and had my previous lesson plans to fall back on when needed. I was still changing things on them as I discovered better ways to present ideas and concepts, but at least there was a decent outline of what was needed. I was also happy that fewer on my students required special assistance. I hoped the reason for that was that I was doing a better job as a teacher, but perhaps it was because this year's class was slightly better at math. Coming years would settle that question, so for now all I could do was do the best I could and hope that it was good enough.
It was a few minutes before our normal bedtime when Corey and I headed for the shower. It was more than a few minutes after our normal bedtime when we finally made it to bed, but boy was the shower fun. Just taking showers together was enjoyable, but when Corey was in a playful mood they were a lot better than enjoyable. Tonight he was extremely playful and a simple shower, which could be accomplished in less than ten minutes, took forty minutes. It was worth every extra minute, and we even managed to get clean along the way. When we finally collapsed in bed, it didn't take Corey long to snuggle up in his usual place, his shoulder buried in my armpit and his head on my chest. Seconds later we were both dead to the world.
To be continued...
A cassoulet is named for the dish it is made in which is traditionally a round deep earthenware pot with slanted sides and which more closely resembles what we commonly refer to as a casserole dish.
Basically it is a meat and bean stew and while there are numerous recipes, there is some broad agreement in France, the country of origin, as to what goes into one. What I described in the story would never pass for a cassoulet in France.
Traditionally a cassoulet consists of beans, some duck or goose confit (pronounced con fee), and other meats such as pork or mutton, and some sausage. A confit is a method of cooking that infuses flavor and also acts as a means of preserving and is normally thought of as being done with meats. As an example, to make a duck confit you start by getting some duck legs and some duck fat. Sprinkle one tablespoon of salt on the bottom of a container big enough to hold the duck legs in a single layer, then add the legs. Cover them with a layer of four minced garlic cloves, one finely diced large shallot, four or five sprigs of thyme, and two more tablespoons of salt and some cracked black pepper corns. Then you cover and refrigerate that for one to two days. On the amount of peppercorns, it depends upon how fine you crack them, but I use about two tablespoons and put the corns in a heavy plastic bag and beat it with a cast iron frying pan. If you grind it, you obviously will need less, but I like lots of pepper and my peppercorns are still pretty coarse after the frying pan treatment.
When it comes time to cook your confit, remove the legs from the marinade and put them in the bottom of a pan and pour enough rendered duck fat over them to completely submerge them. This takes lots more duck fat than you might think. The recipe that I started with called for four legs and a quart of duck fat and wasn't far off. And by the way, the leg consists of both what is called the drumstick and the thigh. They should be cooked at what would be described as a simmer, not quite the boiling point of water and may take as long as ten hours, but I cheated and cooked them at 225 in the oven for three hours. When the legs are finished cooking, put them in a container and pour enough of the still hot duck fat over them to cover them and then seal the container. When completely cooled they can then be stored in a refrigerator for up to a couple of months as long as they are completely submerged in the fat. You wouldn't have to seal the container except for the fact that an open container will attract off flavors when left in the refrigerator. I used a canning jar and lid, but they were not cooked after the lid was put on so they were not actually canned. However, the rubber seal keeps off flavors out.
Goose or chicken confit would be made about the same except that you would use either goose or chicken fat respectively in place of the duck fat. With chicken confit I also throw in a couple of bay leaves when marinating them. There is something about chicken and bay leaves that go together.
Back in yon days of yore, when my parents were young, refrigeration was not commonly available and they used to do what they called frying down. What that basically consisted of was taking some meat, cooking it, and putting it in a crock and pouring hot fat over it to preserve it. Their other options were canning or smoking and one gets tired of canned or smoked meat. Anyhow, when they wanted to use some of it they would dig some out of the crock, heat it and pour the fat that drained off back into the crock to reseal the lower layers of meat. Frying down was more popular for pork than beef and was considered the best way to store country sausage or pork chops. The crocks were kept as cool as possible and according to Mom and Dad the meat would last for several months. Butchering was normally done in the fall of the year so they could employ the frying down method of preservation. Anyhow, a confit is simply a slightly more flavorful way of frying down owning to the marinating of the meat beforehand.
Traditional cassoulets usually use rather elaborate ways to cook the beans, such as putting some pork rind in the bottom of the pan, putting the dried beans on top of it, adding bacon, onions, carrots and seasonings and covering the whole thing with water and cooking until the beans are tender. If you have some pork rind you wish to use, go for it, but I find that using part chicken stock works pretty well at giving the beans some additional flavor. My standard is about half chicken stock and half water, along with some diced onions, a few garlic cloves, some sprigs of thyme, and the usual salt and pepper. I also save ham drippings and use them when cooking beans. I don't know why, but I never got started using carrots in it. I was probably out of carrots the first time I tried to make it, or something like that, but use them if you wish. They certainly won't hurt it. And please do understand that pork rind is not the same as either bacon rind or ham rind. For the purposes of a cassoulet, pork rind is the skin off of salt pork. I haven't seen pork rind for sale in my local supermarkets so I don't use it. And while white kidney beans are the preferred bean, most of the time I end up using white navy or Great Northern beans owing to their availability. If you wish to speed the whole process up, buy canned beans and drain and rinse them. By using canned beans I can have it on the table in about forty-five minutes provided the meat was all cooked, but it does not taste quite as good.
The traditional sausage used is Toulouse Sausage, but since that isn't available locally I use whatever strikes my fancy. I frequently use hot Italian sausage patties and fry them first, but other sausages work well also. For example, kielbasa adds a nice flavor and doesn't need frying beforehand. Just slice it into rounds and throw it in when assembling the cassoulet. Other sausages I've used are Bratwurst, and Andouille, but I do cook them before assembling the cassoulet.
I've made cassoulets using beef roast and pork roast. I generally add some ham because I like it, and sometimes some chicken thighs or drumsticks. I always cook all raw meats beforehand so that when the final dish is assembled it only takes a short while to finish. I also slice all roasts so that I'm not faced with trying to dig a big hunk of roast out and slice it when it is to the point of falling apart tender. If you wish to leave the ham out I would recommend adding some rendered bacon to the cassoulet. I've made it without the ham, but it seemed somewhat lacking without the smoky flavor of the ham and adding some bacon took care of the problem. I suppose you could get the smoky effect by adding a few drops of liquid smoke, but bacon does the job and besides, I like bacon. I even started drooling over the idea of bacon ice cream, but I haven't tried it yet because I haven't found any to buy.
When it comes to proportions, I use one twenty-eight ounce can of diced tomatoes per pound of dried beans and add them at final assembly. I also save part of the liquid the beans were cooked in and use that to bring the liquid level up to the top of the beans when assembled. If you're going to serve it in the dish it is cooked in, I like to stick it in the oven until bubbling nicely and then put a layer of bread crumbs on top and put it back in the oven until they are browned, but if serving it in serving dishes that doesn't work very well. I can't say that the bread crumbs add much, but they do make it look a little nicer, or perhaps more finished is a better choice of words.
A cassoulet is a good way to use up leftover roast, which is where I got started making it. I had fixed a big pork roast and had a cancellation of part of my guests and was wondering what to do with the leftovers. (The guests' car broke down cutting the dinner party in half.) I was skimming through Julia Child's cookbook and saw her recipe for cassoulet and decided that there was no reason that I couldn't use the rest of the roast up that way and since then I've been hooked on them. As I said, mine isn't anywhere close to authentic, but I like it. I did go to the trouble to make one in a more traditional manner, but while good, it wasn't enough better to warrant the extra work of making the confit. On the other hand, duck confit is really good all by itself. I confess to never having made any goose confit because I never had a big enough supply of geese, but either duck of chicken confit is worth making even if you never make a cassoulet. The biggest problem with making a confit is getting enough of the proper fat to cook it, but the fat can be strained and reused. Since I no longer raise either ducks or chickens, my making of confits has stopped. I keep thinking that one of these days I'm going to make a bunch of chicken confit each time chicken legs are on sale, but first I need to get enough chicken fat to cook them and I simply don't know where to buy it. Besides, I need to lose some weight and confit is not going to contribute to that goal. I have a hard enough time keeping my weight anywhere within reason.
A cassoulet is a great dish to serve guests because you can cook everything the day before and only have to assemble it and heat it to serve. That allows you time to visit and the heating time is not critical because it does not seem to hurt it if cooked a little more than necessary. If everything was prepared the day before you can assemble it in about ten minutes, but it will take longer to heat because of the food being stored in the refrigerator and being cold. Even so, an extra ten or fifteen minutes will take care of that.
The last thought to leave you with is this. Remember that most recipes are only a starting point. Don't get wedded to the idea that they must be followed exactly. Granted that if you wish to duplicate a given recipe, you will have to follow that recipe, but in many instances you can make major changes and come up with dishes you like. While I do follow pastry recipes quite closely for proportions of ingredients, even there I am apt to add or subtract spices or seasonings. The one thing you do have to learn is which ones you can increase without ill effect. For example, cloves are quite strong flavored and while I like the flavor of cloves, I'm pretty cautious about adding more than a recipe calls for. On the other hand, nutmeg is milder and can be increased quite a bit without much chance of problems. In meat dishes I'm cautious with thyme and sage, but in tomato dishes it is hard to get too much basil in them. Certainly you can do it, but if the recipe calls for a tablespoon of dried basil, a couple more teaspoons will likely not cause a problem. However, if the recipe calls for a teaspoon of thyme or sage, I wouldn't go over that on the first attempt at that recipe.