Chapter 40

This entry is part 41 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Forty — Chuck’s Stew

Days went by and the revolution in Guatemala was dying. The rebels were losing, knowing from the start that they couldn’t win. But they had tried. The “election” was over.

Chuck had a problem. “Joe,” he said, “you remember that stew we started up in Arizona? When I first made it, I put in a big chunk of beef, some carrots, potatoes, onions, and a few other things and it was good.”

I nodded.

“The trouble is,” he went on, “we’re still eating that same stew.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“The stew pot has never been empty, it’s still the same stew. At times, it’s been pretty thin, but it’s still that same darn stew, and I’m getting tired of it. In Mexico, about the only thing I could find to put in it was a chicken or two and some bananas, and in Guatemala, it got better because I put in a couple of armadillos. I put in a big fish, I found in San Salvador. I don’t know what kind it was, but it had teeth like a cat and was good eating. When we got to Honduras, I added more beef and some sort of a root I had never seen before. I put in corn and beans sometimes to give it body.”

“Why don’t you throw it out?”

“It would be a shame to throw away food with so many hungry people around. You see, the darn thing has been growing….”


“It’s like this. I’ve boiled it down several times and put the concentrate in the refrigerator. I did that a while back when the stew wasn’t so good, then I poured it all together to see what I’d come up with.” He shook his head. “It wasn’t so good but I hated to throw it away, so I put in some pineapple, some papaya. That didn’t help because it needed more meat, so I put in an iguana lizard tail. Yet it still lacked something, so I poured in a bottle of Flor de Caña. Now, it’s the finest stew you’ve ever tasted.”

“Why don’t you eat it?” I asked sarcastically.

“There’s three gallons of the stuff. How can I eat three gallons of stew?”

“Great scot, man! Three gallons? Where do you keep it?”

“I’ve got everything full of it; I even have stew in the coffee pot.”

Chuck was indeed in great trouble.

“I’ll see what I can do to help you get rid of it.”

That afternoon I visited Fermin’s. Juanita gave me a hug and a kiss, and Fermin smiled as usual. “Business is good, thanks to you and little Juanita,” he beamed.

“I might steal her from you, Fermin. Very soon now — as soon as martial law is lifted, I’m going up to the mine and I’ll be lonesome without her.”

Juanita smiled happily and Fermin looked alarmed. “You cannot do this to me!” he moaned.

I changed the subject by saying, “Fermin, I have a deal for you. Now, listen carefully. Chuck is a real good cook and makes the best stew you’ve ever tasted. We were expecting company from the States so I asked him to cook up a big batch of it, but the company didn’t show up on account of the revolution. Now he has about three gallons of the stew on hand and no one to eat it.” My white lie about the visitors went over well.

“What kind of stew is it?” asked Fermin eagerly.

“That’s a secret, but it’s very tasty — made from an old Indian recipe that was given to Chuck by old Chief Rain in the Face of the Blackfoot Indians up in Idaho.”

I thought that would sound impressive. “Now I’ll tell you what we will do, Fermin. Chuck and I will bring the stew over and you can heat it and give Chuck and Argentina and Juanita and me free bowls full, and the rest you may sell. Three gallons is a lot of stew, Fermin.”

“It is, and I thank you,” he said.

I figured if I offered to make Fermin a present of the stew, he would think something was wrong and turn down the offer, but evidently it seemed like a good deal to him. So tonight we would have stew!

That evening as Chuck, Argentina, Juanita and I sat at the table waiting to be served, I ordered a bottle of Flor de Caña and Coke to ease the tension. Fermin had placed the table out on the sidewalk where it was cool. Chuck looked like a prisoner being tried for “Murder One” waiting for the jury’s verdict.

Soon a steaming bowl of stew was placed in front of each of us by Fermin himself; also, one each for Fermin and his wife. The stuff smelled good. I dipped my spoon into it and tasted. It was delicious.

“It’s wonderful!” said Fermin. “I must get the recipe from Chuck.”

In a few minutes the bowls were empty and we asked for second servings. I was obligated to pay for these and I did. Chuck looked pleased and relieved. The crowd walking by was attracted by the delicate aroma, and many people stopped to sniff, and many came into Fermin’s and ordered some of that “wonderful soup.”

Inside an hour the soup kettle was empty.

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