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Dan Conradt: Grandma’s roast beef … times 4

November 26, 2018

DAY 1

“Boys! Time for supper!”

The screen door slammed behind us as we thundered into the kitchen.

“It smells really good, Grandma! What are we having?”

She was standing at the stove, wearing the no-frills blue-and-white apron she’d brought from home, moving mashed potatoes from a kettle into a serving bowl.

“Roast beef,” she said. “Wash your hands.”

My brothers and I elbowed each other for a position at the kitchen sink. “And wash them good,” Grandma added. “I’m going to inspect them!”

She did, and we all passed.

“Where did Mom and Dad go again?” I asked as I forked a third helping of roast beef off the serving platter onto my plate.

“Las Vegas,” Grandma said.

“What’s there?”

“Singing and dancing and places where people gamble.”

“And beer!” my brother said. I never realized he knew so much about Las Vegas.

We’d only eaten half of the roast beef, but between the meat and the mashed potatoes, the scalloped corn and the lime Jell-O garnished with crushed pineapple, Grandma had done the nearly impossible: she’d sent three growing boys away from the supper table uncomfortably full.

“Thanks for supper, Grandma,” my worldly brother said. “That was even better than Mom’s!”

Her eyes twinkled at the compliment.

DAY 2

“Boys! Time for supper!”

The screen door slammed behind a three-boy stampede. Grandma had promised that she was going to bake an apple pie while we were at school, and I still had fond recollections of roast beef and mashed potatoes.

“It smells good, Grandma! What are we having?”

“Hot roast beef sandwiches. Wash your hands …”

In a meat-and-potatoes home it was pretty exotic, even though it was mostly meat and potatoes: a slice of Wonder Bread covered with roast beef that seemed vaguely familiar, topped by a ball of mashed potatoes (also familiar), drizzled with thick brown gravy.

Mom NEVER made something like that!

“It’s really good, Grandma,” I said while she built me a second sandwich. “Put extra gravy on it!”

“I wonder what Mom and Dad are doing,” my brother said.

“Maybe they’re at a show,” Grandma said. “They wanted to see Liberace.”

“What’s that?” I asked. Grandma explained that Liberace wasn’t a “what,” it was a “who.” It didn’t sound like much fun to me.

I finished my second sandwich. Barely.

DAY 3

“Boys! Time for supper!”

Six Red Ball Jets pounded into the kitchen and the screen door banged against its aluminum frame.

“Are you hungry?” Grandma asked from her familiar spot in front of the stove

“Yeah!” we all said together. “What are we having?” I was curious about the thing on the counter; I’d seen it tucked into a back corner of one of the kitchen cabinets, the one where mom kept the walnut chopper, the apple corer and the Veg-O-Matic. But I’d never seen her use it.

“Ground roast beef sandwiches and fried potatoes,” Grandma said.

My brothers and I looked at each other skeptically. Mom would have just called them “leftovers,” but Grandma actually gave them a name.

“What’s this?” my brother asked, picking up the thing on the counter. “It’s heavy.”

“A meat grinder,” Grandma said. “Wash your hands and sit down.”

She wiped her own hands on the blue-and-white apron, wrapped a pot holder around the handle of a cast iron skillet and used a spatula to add a mound of steaming, finely chopped meat to our plates. My brother poked at it experimentally with his fork. “I don’t like it,” he announced.

“You haven’t even tried it,” Grandma said. She carried a second skillet from the stove and gave us each a hamburger patty-sized disk of fried mashed potatoes.

“Didn’t we have this last night?” my brother asked.

And the night before, I thought.

“We don’t waste food,” Grandma said, answering the question without answering it. “There are a lot of starving people in the world.”

It wasn’t bad, but no one asked for seconds.

DAY 4

“Boys! Time for supper!”

The screen door eased shut behind us.

The only smell in the kitchen was from the Ajax that Grandma had used to scrub the sink.

“What are we having, Grandma?”

“Sandwiches,” she said. “There’s a little bit of cold roast beef left …”

We lined up at the sink to wash our hands and didn’t even bother elbowing each other out of the way.

“Your mom called while you were at school,” Grandma said. “All the way from Las Vegas! They’ll be home tonight, after you go to bed. She said they had supper at one of the big fancy hotels You know what they had? Roast beef!”

I ate my roast beef sandwich and thought about starving people. Then I asked for seconds.

“It was really good, Grandma,” I said.

Her eyes twinkled at the compliment.

I don’t know much about Las Vegas, but I’ll bet the roast beef there isn’t as good as Grandma’s.

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