At the breakfast table, Poppa Pater received a text message.
“Oh no!” he cried out.
“Why for the unhappy cry, Poppa?” asked Momma Mater.
“Uncle Jimmy has invited himself to dinner!”
“Horror! Horror! Oh, the horror of the mere thought.” She buried her face in her hands.
Their children, Marlena, Katherine, Joseph, Andrew, Wyatt, Teddy, Brock, and the baby all looked to their parents with questioning faces. As they always did, they asked in perfect unison, “Uncle Jimmy? Who’s he?”
“He’s actually your grand uncle, a brother to your grandmother,” explained Poppa. “And it was her father’s grandfather from whom he inherited the…” Then Poppa buried – not using a shovel, of course – his face in his hands.
Momma reached her hand over to place it on Poppa’s shoulder. She turned to the children and whispered, “The big… spoon.”
Meanwhile, the kids – all eight of them – looked at one another with puzzled faces – not jig-saw puzzled faces, just everyday puzzled faces like one gets when one is… well, mildly perplexed. Then they all shouted, “What’s the big deal about a big spoon?”
Poppa raised his face and looked at each of children, which took a few seconds because at the last count there were eight of them. Then he said, “You’ll see.”
At that, the children no longer looked puzzled – or perplexed if you prefer. No, they didn’t. Now, they just looked annoyed and all of them were thinking the exact same thought. “Boy! What a couple of drama queens (or a king and queen of drama; if you want to be precise).”
Ignoring their children’s state of annoyance, Momma Mater and Poppa Pater immediately disappeared into the kitchen. (Please note: they disappeared into the kitchen, not disappeared in the kitchen – that would be unlikely if not downright impossible; and that just goes to show you how important two little letters can be.)
Momma Mater quickly took each and every pot and pan from all the cupboards all of which contained far more than just cups. Poppa Pater opened the refrigerator door and began taking out all the fresh fruits and vegetables. The children stood by the kitchen door and after witnessing for a few seconds their panic-frantic parents, each one of them shrugged – even the baby, which looked a little weird, but frankly, things at the Mater-Pater home were getting more than a little weird. Anyway, they all shrugged and went off to do what children always do on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning. They went to their rooms to play video games – no, I tell a lie. That’s exactly what they didn’t do.
Playing video games on sunny Saturday mornings was against Mater-Pater house rules. The Mater-Pater children, being as obedient as well trained puppies, went outside to play. And on their street, all the other children in the neighborhood were… inside playing video games. The Mater-Pater children had the whole street to themselves. Oh, well, they were probably happier out there in the fresh air – did I mention what a beautiful sunny morning it was? I did? Never mind. Let’s skip ahead a few hours; to the precise time of 4:58; two minutes before dinner time.
Mater and Pater and all the children had gathered in the living room. Each one of them had their eyes focused on the grandfather clock. I don’t want you thinking they had all decided on their own, “I think I’ll go into the living room and stare at the clock for a few minutes. No, they did not. Instead, they had all sort of decided to themselves, “I think I’ll go into the living room and sit silently for a spell.” But, now, each of them was staring at the minute and hour hands of the clockface. Minutes had passed like hours. And now seconds were also passing like hours which is a little unbelievable, but you get the picture. Suddenly, the clock chimed five times. The dreaded hour had arrived! And so should have Uncle Jimmy and his big spoon. But the second hand on the clock calmly continued on its way, counting off the seconds after the hour.
With fragile hope in their beating hearts – maybe he wasn’t coming to dinner after all – Momma and Poppa looked at one another. But just then, they heard the sound of an old truck parking in front of their home. All their faint and fragile hopes simply disappeared (and disappearing hopes are not an impossibility, as we all know all too well).
Next, they heard the sound of a car door slamming shut. The children ran to the window. They watched as an ordinary looking man who could only be their Uncle Jimmy (uncles, fat or thin, tall or short, always look ordinary – funny thing, that) reached into the bed of the pickup truck. The children gasped when he lifted out a carrying case for a big musical instrument like a tuba or one of those giant-sized cellos which look like a giant sized violin but that’s like saying a giant sized giant which is silly. The children held their breath as he opened the case. When he turned around the children could plainly see what he held in his hand was… a spoon. Breathing again, the children all looked annoyed, thinking the same thing, “Oh, big deal. You call that a big spoon?”
True, the spoon held upright in Uncle Jimmy’s right hand was only slightly bigger than a regular table spoon, not even as big as the spoon Poppa used to stir a big pot of stew (and it was very big pot he cooked his stews in).
The children stood behind their parents at the door. They watched Momma open the door and then heard Uncle Jimmy say in a friendly tone of voice, “Hello my darling niece.”
He looked down at the little faces looking up at him, their curiosity plain to see. “Hello, you eight kids. I’m Uncle Jimmy come to dine, and I’ve brought along my big spoon.”
He held up the spoon for them to see. And if the four words, ‘big deal, a spoon’ can be called a facial expression, that was the exact kind of expression the children had on their faces.
So, with all sense of impending doom disappeared, they all took a seat at the dinner table (though what ‘taking’ has to do with sitting in a chair is something I’ll never understand. I mean, one can take a chair to the table, and one can take a chair from the table, that makes good sense, but to say, “take a chair at the table” is as silly sounding as, “take a chair with the table” as if a person and a table had decided to take a chair with them on a trip. Though I suppose, if one were in a furniture store, one could say, “I’ll take that chair with that table” though it would probably sound better just to say, “I’ll take that chair and table” and by now the reader is probably saying, “Fine, Tonton Jim. Take the chair and the table wherever you want; just get on with the story).
Anyway, they sat in chairs all arranged near to the dining table. Momma Mater and Poppa Pater disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared, each with a very large pot in their hands. Mists of steam rose from the pots full of stew. With the pots set on the tables, Poppa used his rather large soup spoon to ladle out portions of stew into their bowls. Their bowls filled to the rims with steaming stew, everyone bowed his or her head. Momma Mater said grace. Everyone said, “Amen” and then all eyes (except for Uncle Jimmy’s eyes) turned to look at Uncle Jimmy (it would’ve been impossible for him to turn his eyes to himself, though I suppose he could’ve used a mirror) as he said, “You know, it’s a funny thing…”
“You mean funny in the sense of being weird,” said the baby.
“That’s right. It’s a weird thing, but as long as I hold this big spoon in my hand, I just can’t stop eating.”
Everyone, (except Uncle Jimmy) thought about this for a moment, decided they’d worry about it later, and then began eating their portion of stew, and everyone (except Uncle Jimmy) kept glancing at Uncle Jimmy spooning stew into his mouth just like a normal person would. In a way, the children were disappointed.
“That was delicious,” said Uncle Jimmy to no one in particular. “Mind if I help myself to a bit more?”
He ladled the stew into his bowl. He smiled at everyone and then began spooning the potatoes, carrots, and meat into his mouth, quicker this time. Everyone else had finished or was nearly finished with eating, but they all silently watched as Uncle Jimmy sped through his second helping.
“It’s just so good,” he said as he filled his bowl with a third helping. The spooning of stew into his mouth had sped up so much, the motion of his arm became a blur. When he finished that bowl, he stood up, peered into one pot – it was empty, so he filled his bowl with stew from the second pot. In a flash, he finished that bowl. He peered into the second pot of stew and said, “Hmm, almost gone. Here, this will be easier.”
He picked up the pot and poured the last of it into his bowl. The children barely had time to wonder, “What will he do when he finishes that bowl?” No, they didn’t finish that thought before Uncle Jimmy spooned the last bits of stew out of his bowl and into his mouth. They watched him stand up.
“Excuse me, I’ll just disappear into the kitchen and investigate what’s causing that tempting aroma of beef chili.”
They followed him into the kitchen. He advanced to the stove upon which sat a huge pot of bubbling beef chili. Momma and Poppa looked at one another, on their faces their dread plain to see. The children watched their grand-uncle, the amazement on their faces just as plain to see, begin his whirlwind spooning of beans and beef into his mouth.
The children whispered to their parents, “What’s going to happen when he runs out of food?”
“We don’t know,” said Momma Mater.
“No one has ever actually seen him using the big spoon to eat,” said Poppa Pater.
Then Uncle Jimmy’s arm froze. He peered into the nearly empty pot, scrapped the last bits of sauce into his spoon, and put it into his mouth. Everyone, but he, waited for what he would do next.
He burped. “Excuse me. I think I’ll just go outside and lie down for a short while.”
They followed him to the back door from where they watched him plop himself down onto a patio lounger. His belly, as would be expected, bulged up as if he’d swallowed a large beach ball.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Momma Mater said, “Well, that’s a relief. Children, time for after-dinner chores.”
They began helping to clear the dinner table of dirty bowls and spoons, and then helped in the kitchen. But every so often they would go the window and look out at their grand-uncle who had, apparently and quite understandably, fallen asleep. The big spoon still in his clenched fist.
Uncle Jimmy woke up next to a tree as if he’d sleepwalked from the patio to a lovely forest area and then had decided to rest a spell, nestled against the trunk of an oak. He stretched out his arms and yawned. After he opened his eyes, he could see the smiling faces of a man and a woman who looked somewhat like his niece and his nephew-in-law. Each of the two wore a robe. The man held in one hand a staff that looked like a giant-sized, butter knife. The woman had slung over her shoulder a club that looked like a giant-sized turkey baster.
“Where am I?”
“In the neighborhood park,” answered the man. “You must have sleepwalked here.”
“I like your spoon,” said the woman.
Uncle Jimmy looked at the spoon still clenched in his fist. “Oh, this? It’s just a kitchen utensil I inherited from my grandfather.”
“What happened to him?” asked the man.
“Not sure. Someone said he’d disappeared in a kitchen. But that’s just silly.”
“Quite silly,” said the woman. “It was more likely a food factory. Like that one over there.”
Uncle Jimmy looked in the direction of where the woman was pointing and did not see a large building like what a person would expect a factory to be in. Instead he saw a small and pretty cottage.
“That’s a food factory?” he asked.
“That’s what the sign says,” said the man.
Indeed, over the front door of the cottage was a sign saying just that, “Glutton’s Food Factory”.
“You know, for some reason completely mysterious to me, I’d like to tour that factory.”
“We thought you’d say something like that,” said the woman. “Come along. There’s much to see and… eat.”
“I like the sound of that,” said Uncle Jimmy. “Lead the way.”
Which the man and woman did by walking in front of Uncle Jimmy. The woman opened the cottage’s front door to let Uncle Jimmy go in first. Upon entering the cottage, he was amazed to see the inside of the cottage was impossibly bigger than the outside would allow. But he didn’t stop to wonder about that. A delicious aroma alerted his nose to the presence of large vats of bubbling stew. At three of the vats, standing on short ladders, stood small figures, each wearing a white chef’s jacket and a white chef’s hat. Each of them stirred a pot with a large wooden ladle. They turned their baby faces to regard Uncle Jimmy with friendly smiles.
“That stew smells awfully good,” he said.
“Would you like to taste some?” asked the man.
“I couldn’t really. I just ate a rather large meal. But…” Uncle Jimmy lightly patted his bulging belly. “Well, maybe there’s room for just a tiny spoonful.”
He held up his spoon and was startled by the fact of it having grown in size. It was now a lot bigger than Poppa Pater’s soup stirring spoon. But he didn’t have time to wonder at that. The man, who stood behind Uncle Jimmy, put his hands on his shoulders and forced him to sit a chair somewhat like a dentist’s chair.
Each of the small chefs approached Uncle Jimmy, each with his ladle filled with hot stew. Each chef in turn poured stew into Uncle Jimmy’s now bigger than ever big spoon. The spoon, as if it had a mind of its own, came to his mouth and poured its contents into his mouth. Uncle Jimmy could no longer control his arm. It automatically moved back to receive another spoonful from the ladles of the tiny chefs. Constantly, the spoon returned to his mouth and poured its contents into his mouth leaving him no time or opportunity to say, “Thank you, kindly, but I’ve had quite enough.”
Uncle Jimmy couldn’t move any part of his body except for his arm which robotically took each refilled spoonful to his opened mouth. The woman looked into his eyes. There she could see the horror and fear now filling him up as much as stew meat, carrots, and potatoes were filling his belly. She smiled. It was a pleasant smile, like a loving mother pleased to see her child eat. Then, as if she’d suddenly realized that Uncle Jimmy was afraid and very unhappy, held up her hand to stop the three little chefs.
“Is there something wrong?” she asked.
“Please, I beg of you: Stop feeding me. If I swallow another spoonful, surely my belly will explode.”
And that appeared to be a real possibility. His belly had ballooned so big his shirt buttons had popped off. The woman, with a single index finger, poked his belly as if she were testing an inflated beach ball. She turned to the man and said, “He’s ready.”
The man and woman each seized an arm and the little chefs took his legs (two on one leg and the third left to struggle with the remaining leg, I suppose). They carried him over to what looked like a China plate except it was the size of a grownup’s bed. To this they tied him. He couldn’t move his arms and legs, but he could turn his head to see the man dip his butter-knife shaped staff into a vat and emerge with a large smear of butter.
“Do I have to eat that butter?” asked Uncle Jimmy in a low and fear-filled voice.
“Of course not,” answered the man. “That would be wasteful.” The man began smearing the butter over Uncle Jimmy.
“And we wouldn’t want that, would we?” asked the woman though it wasn’t really the kind of question requiring an answer. She’d just returned from a vat, her giant-sized turkey baster now filled with brown liquid. She poured the liquid over his body.
“You’re not going to eat…” But Uncle Jimmy was so scared he couldn’t finish the sentence. He looked to his big spoon. He hated that big spoon. It was the sole reason he’d gotten into this mess. Then he noticed his spoon beginning to glow brightly. He relaxed his tight grip and the spoon, by itself, floated in front of his face. In its shiny silver hollow he could see the faint figures of people exercising and eating sensible meals. He realized what he had to ask, beg really. “Please, I beg of you, take this spoon away from me.”
In a sudden flash of bright white light, the butter man, the baster woman, the three little chefs, and all of Glutton’s Food Factory vanished. Still on the patio lounger he raised his head a little to see the curiosity filled faces of the eight children staring at him. For a moment he wondered what the baby was doing with a snare drum and the two drum sticks held in her chubby little hands.
“Oh, hello kids.”
“Hello, Uncle Jimmy,” they said.
He reached down a hand and placed it on top of his belly which was almost as full as when he’d first gone to sleep. A worried look came into his face. “Oh, dear me. I think I’m going to… going to…”
The children all took a step back and pinched their noses shut.
“…belch.” Which he did, rather loudly and for an unbelievable long time.
He looked down at his right hand, the big spoon still clutched tightly in his fist. He held it in front of his face, looking at it as if it recalled to him a great moral lesson recently learned, a lesson dreadful in its teaching, maybe even terrifying in its implications for his immortal soul.
“You know, I wonder…”
The baby began tapping a rolling drum beat.
“…what’s for dessert?”