Hotdish – A Poem Of The Great North Woods

Hotdish
by Ron Olsen

God bless hotdish
It kept us alive
But first we’d pray
Our Sunday morning ritual
Praying
To get through it all
For just one more day

We meant it too
We were so unworthy
The Vicar told us
And vile
And ungrateful
Not worthy to “gather up the crumbs” under His table
Which we really didn’t need
Truth be told

We had hotdish

Plenty of it
Stronger than theology
And tasty too

Tuna
Noodles
And sour cream
Pimentos
Olives
A splash of milk with a can of soup
Mix it together
Crush some potato chips on top
A sprinkle of paprika for an exotic edge
Throw it in the oven
And there you go

Salt and pepper
To give it taste
Bracing your blood to stand up
To the demon weather
Wailing outside
Begging you to come out
So it could try and kill you one more time

But we had hotdish
Made by the Ladies of the Ladies Aid
Who knew what they were doing

Big, strong German and Scandinavian farm ladies
With secrets they brought over from the old country
Arriving with only their bibles, babies and the family jewels
Bending over stoves
In the Episcopal Guild Hall basement
The heat flooding out to envelop the entire room

Making heavy, hearty, homemade hotdish in
Big Pyrex glass baking dishes
Doing their part
To keep the kids and the cardiologists going

And just as you were about to burst with joy
Unworthy as you were
There was even more to come
Through the passthrough and out into the main hall

Giant bowls of green and yellow Jell-O, wiggling and jiggling with life
Bits of cottage cheese suspended inside
And green olives
Molded in the shape of pinwheels
Or Christmas trees
Or peculiar giant half-moon shaped fish with big scales

And the old men would watch
Mumbling under their breath
“Damn kids don’t know how good they’ve got it…”

So we prayed to be forgiven
And were mindful of the need to be always alert
If the weather didn’t kill you some crazy old man might
Or you could fall through the ice and drown a horrible death in the lake

And all the while the wind screamed
Threatening to take your soul

And it might have
Except for the hotdish

Neither the north wind
Nor the crazy old men dared cross
The ladies of the Ladies Aid
Who knew exactly what they were doing

                     §


© Ron Olsen – all rights reserved

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Ron Olsen is a retired journalist who lives in Los Angeles, where he writes essays and an occasional poem.  You can find more of his poetry on his website, workingreporter.com.