I’m in the middle of the pine-paneled restaurant at Boyne Mountain Resort (somewhere at the top of Michigan’s mitt), sitting in a large, carved pine chair – twice as large as it needs to be.
Looking around the big, round table, there are siblings to the left and siblings to the right, with Mom and Dad straight ahead; and everyone capable of reading the menu, is. Scanning mine for a third time, my eyes keep returning to the word “stew”, which conjures a mouthwatering picture in my head – big, chunks of tender meat in a rich, dark gravy.
“How different could mutton be from beef?” a voice in my head insists – repeatedly – drowning out all inner arguments and already placed orders.
It’s my turn.
“I’ll have the Mutton Stew, please.”
The waitress looks up from her pad, hesitates, and then looks to Mom and Dad.
“Oh, Annie, you won’t like that,” Mom gently suggests. “It has a very strong flavor.”
But I protest.
“Please, Dad,” I plead, revving the perpetually high-powered motor that drives most eight-year-olds.
Mom urges, once more, to reconsider, but I remain unflappable. The lady is waiting and “The Troops” are hungry and restless. Dad raises his eyebrows, then nods to the waitress.
“All right then, Mutton Stew for the young lady.”
Triumphant, I can already taste the dark, rich gravy. Minutes seem like hours. The baskets of crackers and breadsticks and the pats of butter on small mountains of ice in the center of the big, round, constantly spinning, Lazy Susan are rapidly disappearing.
Beyond the large, glass windows overlooking the resort’s ski hills, the slopes are ablaze and white and dotted with skiers still eager to slip and slide down the gentle, rolling, Midwestern hills. It’s a wonderful sight, but the hungry voice in my head has recently enlisted my stomach, now rumbling, low and loud. Until the waitress returns with her overburdened tray, all I can think about is stew.
Burgers and fries pass by my eyes. Mom has soup and Dad’s given pasta. It takes two hands to carry the large, shallow bowl heading my way. I’m so excited, I can hardly keep still in my seat. My eyes eagerly follow the large, round bowl to the place setting in front of me and I look down to see…
… a sea of grayish-brownish goo; its foul smell already invading my nostrils.
My hunger instantly retreats, but all eyes at the table are on me. Even the waitress is loitering nearby, which means I can’t possibly back down before the first bite and so, with reluctance, I grab the smallest spoon and in it goes.
Releasing more stink from the bowl of brown-gray gloom.
I scoop up a small, dark morsel; highly doubtful about this dubious-scented mouthful.
It’s instant repulsion. Unbridled revulsion. A funky chunk of grisly meat that my tongue and teeth want to reject and my throat wants to eject into the clean, white napkin in my lap. But it’s swallow it, or my pride.
The mutton punishes me all the way down.
Without a word, Mom and Dad turn their attention to their own plates. All follow.
While I’m left alone to stew.