A Visit to Washington — Land of the Barrel of Cheer

The second trip I’ve taken as a full-time freelancer was on the heels of the Nola trip and with the same cast and crew — my dad and my brother. We flew up to Washington to visit Mark and Linda.

Mark and Linda live on a few acres of land in the small town of Sequim about a three-hour drive from Seattle. Mark’s a college buddy of my dad’s (and is also the author of a fantastic book called The Face of His Brother, if you’re looking for a good read). Linda is his lovely wife. Both are from my home state of Louisiana and both have the most wonderful accents as proof of the pudding.

I don’t have that accent. I have an accent, but it’s slight. The thick drawl that is my birthright somehow passed me by. Sometimes I’m thankful for that. It makes it easier to blend. Other times I think it’s a shame. It removes me from my roots a bit, and roots are important to have in this world.

Mark and Linda were the most incredible hosts. I mean, seriously. Remember when I said earlier their place was a three-hour-drive from Seattle? Well, Mark made that drive both to pick us up from the airport at the start of the trip and to take us back at the end.

Our incoming flight arrived after 11 p.m. and our departure left around 6 a.m. That’s right. He stayed up until the wee hours of the morning driving us to his place from the airport and then awoke in similar wee hours to take our asses back. And did not breath a word of complaint. That is some gold-medal level hosting.

I’d never met Linda before and was excited to finally have the chance. I’d heard so much about her.

Since we got in so late, we didn’t see her until the morning, but when we woke she had steaming coffee ready for us. We chit chatted over our mugs at a table on their recessed, grotto-encased patio surrounded by beautiful old pine trees that made me realized the pines we have in Texas have nothing on the ones they have in Washington. At least size-wise.

I thought I’d seen tall pines before. I hadn’t. These were the stuff of children’s books. Larger than what seemed possible, and so, so very green. They were breathtaking.

After coffee, Linda went inside to get breakfast ready while Mark showed dad, Haydon, and me the property.

They’re selling it soon, which was a big driver for the trip. Dad had heard about the place for years and wanted to see it before it was too late. They have a handful of wooded acres that back up to more land they sold to the local Indian tribe.

We could still walk on the Indian-owned land, though, and a beautiful river runs through that part of the land.

Dad and I couldn’t resist a river selfie.

The whole area was just beautiful. And when we got back Linda had prepared a quiche along with delicious fresh fruit. It was fabulous.

After breakfast, Mark drove us to see some of the sights. We stopped off at the John Wayne Marina which had a little restaurant. We’d been exploring for a couple of hours at that point and had worked up an appetite and were also thirsty.

Dad told the hostess his last name was Zezlette. He said it was Moravian, then he spelled the name for her, unasked. Mark and I struggled to keep our faces straight.

Over a delicious creamy Dungeness crab dish and Prosecco, we all chatted, and whenever the waitress came by dad tried to drop in little relevant details about how things were doing back in Moravia. From the waitress’s face, I wasn’t sure whether the oddness off it even registered. I could tell my dad was dying for her to ask him more about his home country, but she didn’t bite.

Then we went to the Walgreens where we could buy not only beer and wine but liquor as well. We picked up some Jameson and a few bottles of Pinot Noir.

Back at the house, Mark pulled out what he likes to call his barrel of cheer. It’s full of beer and you need only add ice to make it a party. He added ice.

We sat around the fire pit telling more tales with everyone, Dad, Haydon, Linda, me. Mark had mentioned we’d all have a cookout that night. But then, something inconceivable happened. Someone else showed up at the house.

It was Sue.

“Hi Sue,” Mark greeted her. “How’s it going? What brings you by?”

“Well, it’s Wednesday, right?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Aren’t we having game night?”

I saw a look pass between Mark and Linda. Game night. They’d completely forgotten about game night.

“Of course! Come sit down,” Linda said without missing a beat. “These are some friends from out of town.”

Mark introduced everyone and Linda slipped inside.

Five more people showed up making our little party nine people total. And I began to worry.

What was Linda going to do? We were running out of cheese and crackers and it was clear these people were used to coming here to eat food with their games and now it appeared there would be no games and also no food. Not only that, but Sequim isn’t the kind of place where you just pick up the phone and order something in. No pizza delivery to save the day.

This was a hostess’s nightmare.

Or I thought it was. But it wasn’t this hostess’s nightmare, because Linda comes from the old school of southern belles, where you’re ready to prepare a banquet feast for nine at a moment’s notice. And that’s just what she did.

I walked into the kitchen to see if I could be of any help, and she was cooking up a storm. Multiple pots were on the stovetop simmering with delicious smelling things. The stove was on. Bread was out. I asked, “Can I help you with anything?”

“Oh, dear, I’d like to say ‘no,’ but it’d be great if you could set the table.”

I could certainly do that.

“Grab Mark and your brother and get them to put a few chairs outside. Mark will know which ones. We’ll eat al fresco!” Linda was smiling, wasn’t even breaking a sweat, and I was in awe of her calm under pressure.

Mark, Haydon, and I set everything up while dad entertained the folks gathered around the fire. My father’s a wonderful storyteller and was the perfect distraction while the food was being prepared.

Linda came out of the house under an hour later, and dinner was served. But not just any old dinner, no. And certainly not one that looked like it had been thrown together last-minute and consisted of whatever she had laying around the kitchen.

Y’all, it was three courses. And each and everything she prepared was absolutely delicious.

We had French onion soup with toasted cheese baguette on top; perfectly baked bone-in chicken breast — juicy on the inside, crispy skin on the outside — served with a tasty vegetable medley, a side salad, and fresh French bread; and for dessert, cobbler topped with ice cream.

As each dish came out, I became more and more impressed. Linda did what I could never do. I am not from that school of southern belle. My generation would starve to death if presented with the challenge that Linda so effortlessly embraced.

Like many of my peers, I am not a cook. There are so many basic, basic things people from her generation whip up in the kitchen — making it look as natural as breathing — that would be the most impossible of feats for me. Homemade pie crusts. Spaghetti sauce from scratch. Chicken salad.

I can’t make anything at all without a recipe, and sometimes even those give me trouble.

As with my lack of an accent, I feel like I’ve missed out on a little of my birthright by being a Southern lady who wouldn’t know how to make dumplings if her life depended on it. I can make Ramen noodles in a coffee pot — and have. But, while perhaps a teensy bit impressive as a sort of parlor kitchen trick, that’s not quite the same thing. :)

Everyone at the table that night talked, laughed, drank, ate, and enjoyed — none the wiser that their visit was something of a surprise to their hosts.

The next day, Mark drove us up to Olympic park and the view was breathtaking. Have a look:

There’s something about mountains. Pictures never quite capture the majesty of actually being on one. Of ascending rung by rung up the road and having the slight sense of becoming elevated and then having your eyes affirm you’ve gone up much higher than you felt you had and then seeing for miles and miles and miles. We don’t have mountains in Austin. We have hills. And while they’re quite lovely, they’re no comparison.

When I got back to Austin, I knew I’d experienced two things on my travels I wouldn’t soon forget. The celestial beauty of the mountains, and the awe of a truly great hosting from a couple who can make any number of people feel welcome in their home at moment’s notice — who are always ready to entertain with a barrel of cheer, a home cooked meal, and a warm, inviting fire.

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