How I learned to cook
The first time I ever saw Lee Rich was when my father, Norm Smith, was in the hospital in 1960 and Mr. Rich was his roommate. Each had suffered a terrible heart attack and was in need of TLC.
My sweet mother attended to my father’s needs, but day after day, Mr. Rich was never visited by his family. Every other day, Momma would shave him and comb his hair. Daddy came home to die in 1961, and from that time until March of 1963, I had not seen Mr. Rich.
His wife had MS, and was an invalid, and worse yet, she was meaner than a cat with its tail caught in the door. The good part was she had just died. The bad part was that it put him in the hospital, and his thieving daughter-in-law Betty took every bit of money he had ever saved. In those days $8,000 was a goodly sum of money.
Well sir, on March 7Th 1963, Mr. Rich appeared on Momma’s doorstep.
Mother said, “I sure do, Mr. Rich. What on earth are you doing here?”
Says he, “Mrs. Smith mam, I ain’t much with words so I’ll just come out and say it. My wife died. I’m alone, and so are you ‘cept for Glen, Will you Marry me? Now you can talk or say yes. What do you think?”
Well Momma about crapped her pants right there on the spot. She invited him in and they talked all that afternoon, and that night they went to the drive-in to see the new Beatles movie. When she came home she came into my room and rehearsed the events of that day and asked me what I thought. I told her that Daddy was dead and good riddance, he was mean and abusive, and I needed a dad, but not to worry about me because I was 15 and would be leaving home in a few years.
On May 1st of that same year they were married, and the love that she and I never got from my dad came home to stay.
Leland Rich was such a man as I had never known. He was a cowboy from the word go, and a rough and tough one at that, yet he was the kindest gentleman I had ever met. He treated my mother like the angel she was, and me like his own blood kin.
When school let out he talked Momma into letting me go on a cattle drive in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming with him and his three brothers, Orville, Vard, and Jay. I was in for the time of my life.
When we got to Lander Wyoming, we were met by Dad’s son Eldon. Eldon was a huge man. He stood six feet six inches tall, and weighed in at about 310 pounds. His horse was a Clydesdale Mare named Kibble. She stood 19 hands high and was spoiled rotten.
Eldon was such a kind man, and we hit it off right off the bat. He kinda took me under his wing for the drive, and I am sure glad he did.
Four AM came early the next morning, and being unaccustomed to getten up so early, I drug around most of the morning as we headed for the ranch 55 miles north of Lander.
It was not just crisp; it was downright cold when we got there. Peter Macintyre was the cook and insisted that everyone call him Mac. He was damn near toothless, had a gray scruffy beard, and smelled to high heaven. Oh yes, and he could flat out “NOT” cook.
The number one rule of the camp is you can bitch about the food, but the last words outta your mouth better be, “But it’s just the way I like it.”
I had never eaten much other than my Momma’s fine cooken, and the first thing Mac did was serve up a platter of half cooked eggs, greasy bacon, and biscuits that were so hard, you could hit em with a baseball bat. I blurted, out, “Holy crap, these biscuits are hard as a rock. They ain’t nuthen like the ones my momma makes.”
Well sir, it got so quiet, you coulda heard a buck fart 200 yards away. Everyone just looked at me waiting for me to finish my sentence. The only problem with that was, nobody tole me that I was supposed to say, “It was just the way I liked it.”
I had NEVER cooked anything in my life cept for some things at scout camp, and now I was the camp cook.
Later that afternoon, my momma showed up to the camp, and when she heard what had taken place, laughed so hard, she damn near peed herself.
For the next two days, she gave me the cooking lesson of my life. Everyone thought that I would run back home, because face it, I was spoiled being the youngest of six, and I was the only boy.
What they didn’t know was I loved it. Later in life I became a trained chef. Those two weeks turned out to be the time of my life.