High Altitude Cooking
We were famous. The women of the Potluck Catering Club were nationally and even internationally recognizable. Six ordinary women from Summit View, Colorado --- a small town near Breckenridge --- had been catapulted from stirring up homemade soup on cold winter days and putting in our hours at our typical jobs to signing autographs, being featured on magazine covers and interviewed on talk radio and television shows, and presenting awards at glittery, star-studded galas. And how it came to be was a story in itself.
Of course, we have to give Lisa Leann Lambert, newest member of the potluck prayer group --- or, the Potluck Club, as we've always called ourselves --- her "props," as students at the high school where I'm the media specialist like to say. Because of our collective culinary skills, Lisa Leann came up with the idea to form a catering business and then, by some stroke of either genius or madness, her son Nelson entered us as contestants for the reality show The Great Party Showdown, where we came in first place. The grand prize was a million dollars (a million dollars!), which we intend to use for a variety of things for the catering business but mainly to aid in our church's building renovation and --- shall we call it --- "salvation" program.
"Renovation" in that the old building was in dire need of some restoration --- things like new boarding, new insulation, and some additions to the youth wing."Salvation" in that, according to our beloved pastor Kevin Moore and my husband Samuel, Grace Church was going under financially.
"It's heading directly for bankruptcy," Samuel confided to me several months earlier. Samuel was on the finance committee and would know."A real sign of our times, I'm afraid."
Our winnings would keep this from happening and would allow for the expansion. I was especially pleased knowing the youth building would be a recipient of our hard work and wild escapades while in New York City filming the show. It had been quite the journey.
How were we to know that weeks later, we'd see it as only the beginning of an exhausting road that would lead to murder.
Upon our return to Summit View --- after filming in New York City for weeks on end, being interviewed across the country by a variety of radio and TV talk shows, newspapers, and magazines, being photographed ad nauseam, and being the belles of the ball at other miscellaneous events --- we were honored with a parade and a dinner at the church, where we were the guests of honor. And we were going to be guests on Daystar's Denver Celebration television program --- the final three within one short week.
It was nearing the end of September, and the weather was still a little warm. Lisa Leann insisted that we always wear our signature pink bib aprons when on television and for most photo layouts, but what we chose to put on under them was up to us. Wanting to stay cool --- as I seem to run hot in this blessed stage of life I find myself in --- I chose a Max and Cleo V-neck shift dress in pale yellow with three-quarter cuffed sleeves I'd purchased at Macy's on 34th during some of our downtime in New York. I'd not had a chance to wear it yet, and I hoped it looked as sharp and sassy on me as it did on the department store mannequin.
My husband seemed to think it did."Wow," he said, eyeing me."Wow," he said again.
Standing in the center of our bedroom, I twirled before him, feeling the soft material of the dress slink around my slender form."You like?" I asked with a wink.
I dramatically allowed my shoulders to droop."You have a wider vocabulary than that, Samuel Prattle, and don't tell me you don't." I pointed at him as I squared my shoulders."I've been married to you for far too long to think any differently."
In his sixties, Samuel is still good-looking by every measure of the word. His hair has silvered and thinned, and the skin around his eyes has drooped a little, but the sparkle of those baby blues can still melt me even on the coldest of Summit View days."How about wowzer?" He moved toward me like a cat on the prowl.
"Back away," I said, laughing."I'll be late if you try to start anything I can't finish."
He was hearing nothing of it, instead pressing me toward the edge of the dresser."Where'd you say you were going?" He wrapped his arms around my waist and nuzzled my neck."You smell too good to be around other males, I'm thinking," he added with a laugh."I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea."
I pushed him away with the palms of my hands against his broad chest."You know good and well where I'm going. To the Daystar studios in Denver. They're doing an interview." I feigned snobbery as I said, "We're such stars, you know. That's why we're on Daystar."
"Har-har." Samuel walked over to the bed and sat, then pulled his dress shoes from where he'd left them the night before. He was nearly dressed for work --- crisp white shirt tucked into dark belted pants and finished with a complementary tie. All he had left to do was slip his feet into the leather loafers, grab his suit coat, and head out the door."What I want to know is what in the world can you say in this interview that you haven't said in all the others?"
I reached for a pair of gold small hoop earrings lying on the dresser and slipped the post of one into the tiny pin-sized hole in my left ear."Well, for one, this is a Christian station. Which means we can talk about God a little more openly. No worries that we're going to be censored."
"Sounds fair. I hate the way that network anchor made you look after the win, as though it seemed so odd that your catering business began as a prayer group."
I finished with my jewelry then stepped over to the closet for my dress sandals."She was just doing her job."
"Still…she's too liberal for me."
I laughed lightly as I slid my feet into my shoes. I moved to where my husband looked up at me from his perch on our bed, kissed him on his forehead, and said, "Me too, but I'm sure she's a good person. See you when you get home this afternoon." I pointed up with my right index finger."Oh. Corned beef and cabbage for dinner tonight, your favorite."
"I'll come straight home then," he said with a wink, then his face sobered."I'll be praying for you today, Liz. Call me when you're done."
"Will do," I said from the door. I blew him another kiss and then was on my way.
The girls and I decided to meet at our catering shop and then drive in to Denver together."No need to waste gas by taking six cars," Evangeline had said."Lizzie, your car should be big enough for all of us."
I've known Evangeline Benson Vesey nearly my whole life, and I can lovingly but honestly say she's always been bossy. She also carries with her a sense of pride about coming from Summit View, and is rich in knowledge concerning its landmarks and its history, including its gold mining legends and myths.
"There's no way you're stuffing me into one SUV with the five of you," Donna Vesey, Evie's stepdaughter and our youngest member, said."It's two vehicles or I'm not going. Besides, four in the back means we'll break seat belt laws." Donna was the deputy sheriff to her father, sheriff Vernon Vesey.
"Donna's right," Vonnie Westbrook said. She smiled at Donna, who'd been like a daughter to her ever since Donna's mother, Doreen, abandoned her and Vernon to run off to California with Grace Church's choir director. Donna had been only about four at the time."It's a good thing David and Wade are both stuck at work or we might need three cars."
I watched Donna pink at the names of the young men who had been part of our team in New York. Feeling her discomfort at the mere mention of their names, I quickly added, "I agree with Vonnie."
Evie pouted, but in the end we took two cars: Evie's and mine. We arrived in Denver with just enough time to be welcomed by the receptionist, escorted into the green room by the producer, and briefed as to what to expect. A half hour and a cup of coffee later we were arranged on the chairs and sofa of the rich, elegant studio set. We'd gotten to be old pros at hearing the banter of the cameramen with the producers and hosts, understanding the cues. Settled in, we waited for the "In three, two, one . . ." and waited as the hostess said, "Welcome to Denver Celebration! Today we are so excited to have six women I'm sure you all know --- the ladies of the Potluck Catering Club, our very own Team Potluck from Summit View."
I watched the host's eyes dance in the stage lighting. Her hair, long and dark, gleamed under the lights' illumination, casting a sheen about her pretty face. I listened intently to the questions she posed for each of us and was then captivated when, unexpectedly, she said, "My research tells me that you, Evangeline, are a bit of a Summit View historian."
Evie squared her shoulders as she smiled broadly."My father," she began matter-of-factly, "was the mayor for many years until he and my mother were tragically killed in a car accident."
We all cast Evie a sorrowful glance.
"Daddy always said that knowing the history of one's town was the first step in having hometown pride."
"That certainly makes sense to me," the hostess said."So, what kind of things can you tell our audience about Summit View? What makes it so special, other than being home to the six of you?"
"Oh, well, my goodness! Where do I begin?" Evie beamed. Then she pointed her finger."First let me tell you that even though we have a population of about 25,000, we are still small-town friendly." She turned her face toward the camera."And like all of Colorado, our Summit View is as pretty as any place you'll ever come to visit or call home."
"Hear, hear," Vonnie chimed in.
We all laughed lightly before Evangeline continued."Now, Summit View was established in 1856 during the Colorado Gold Rush, which for all of you who know your American history was about ten years after the California Gold Rush. I believe I'm right on that, aren't I, Lizzie?" She turned to me, as did everyone else on the set.
"Uh --- yeah, that is correct," I said.
"Lizzie is our high school's media specialist," Lisa Leann said.
"Marvelous!" said our host.
"I'm on a temporary leave," I pointed out, as if it were important to note."Until we're done with our post-win interviews . . . things like that."
Evie discreetly sighed."Back to what I was saying," she told our host."Summit View has a small museum where anyone who comes by and pays a dollar entry fee can see old photos from those days and read about lost gold mines and the stagecoach robberies and even the famous mother lode of gold that was supposed to rival all others, stolen and never recovered, though legend has it that it's still buried somewhere right there in Summit View."
Donna shifted in her seat."Every few months or so I get a call --- I'm a deputy in the sheriff's department --- from some mother who can't find her kids and I end up finding them out in the hills, looking for that treasure chest of gold." Donna chuckled."If that gold is really buried in Summit View, I'm sure it would have been discovered by now."
The host crossed one leg over the other as she looked at Goldie Dippel."What can you tell us about the prize money and how you plan to use it?"
Goldie cleared her throat before answering."Well, we do plan to use a little of the money to pay off our business debts that accumulated while we were away from our jobs and to purchase some things we need. But the majority of the money will go to Grace Church, which is where we all attend."
"For renovation of an old part of the structure," Lisa Leann interjected, "and to add on to the youth wing."
By this time, Pastor Kevin had made us all privy to the church's dire financial straits, which we all agreed to leave private.
"Your church was established by the famous Father Dyer, the circuit preacher who visited his churches by cross-country skiing through the mountains."
"In the mid-1800s," I supplied.
"And is your church that old?" she asked.
We all nodded."It is," Evangeline said."And just loaded with amazing stories."
The host looked at the camera."And I would have to add that, thanks to the ladies of the Potluck Catering Club --- Team Potluck --- the amazing stories continue."