I hadn’t seen Jim in some time and thought it was going to be good to reconnect with him that day at the small Pennsylvania hall where we would be doing some “pro-bono” video work for the local chapter of the anti-sludge movement. His wife Colleen had asked me to do this knowing that I, along with two close friends, run a small DIY film fest every summer. She thought I might want to get in on the action. I wasn’t that educated about all the issues surrounding the use of humanure but apparently it had become quite commonly used these days as a cheap fertilizer on Pennsylvania’s many farm fields and, I suspected, an even cheaper way for Jersey to shit on my beautiful state yet again. Literally.
After the presentations had ended and Jim and I had both packed up our equipment I was on my way out the door when Jim stopped me and invited me to come to dinner at his house that night. Cool I thought. That would be great. I told him I’d check with Jen and most likely we’d see him around six. Earlier that morning, just before the farmers from Georgia started to tell their stories of sludge havoc, I heard him mentioning to his wife Colleen about a meatloaf. Wow, I thought, it was going to be a good time at the Stolz house tonight. Being as the only time I get home-made meatloaf is when my mother makes it for me, which is maybe once a year, the word alone is one of those words that won’t often get missed by my ears. It sits back there in my subconscious waiting to be caught again out in the conscious world.
When we arrived at the house Colleen was scurrying around the kitchen carrying a bowl of fresh spinach greens and ordering various commands to her youngest son who’s birthday it was that day. I had known her eldest son for about 8 years now but we rarely saw each other so were not on real familiar terms. He was going through the awkwardness of his early teen years but was extremely intelligent and of an independent mind. He was much like his parents. They had raised the two boys all the while pursuing advanced degrees from Lehigh University. As Jen and I offered to help it became quite apparent that there was no need. We simply watched as the well-oiled system in this warm home naturally moved along. This was a team in action. There was real chemistry in the interaction and love in this kitchen.
Jim had for years been working with mentally challenged adults but I was surprised to see him arrive at the door with two of his clients for dinner. All told there were now eight of us in the kitchen. The two sons sporadically left the kitchen and bounded up the stairs. Upon returning downstairs the eldest did his duty to throw the younger Denny around a bit in the living room. Denny shrieked with laughter and kept coming back for more torment. Down on the massive floor pillow and then back up again and then down again. We stood next to the sink and watched as Colleen put the finishing touches on her dessert and Jim introduced us to the two distinguished dinner guests. Both men looked more than disheveled but had big smiles going and eager, if a bit anxious, eyes sparkling as they surveyed the familiar grounds. The older fellow, named Jimmy, grasping his worn hat in one hand and thrusting his other out to shake mine looked directly at me and said through a white bearded grin, “I’m Jimmy!” “Not to be confused with Jim Stolz! Although he’s alright that Jim Stolz. He. . . .he’s alright Jim Stolz.” “Wayne,” I blurted. I’ll have to keep it loud and clear with this guy I thought. He’s not going to miss a beat. Harry stared apprehensively at the two of us and Jim (the Stolz this time) said, “Are you hungry Harry? Well say hello to Wayne and his wife Jen. Go ahead.” Harry came right up then and said hello, his eyes glancing nervously to the floor. His face was red from the cold outside. He had a healthy girth about him but was younger than my 35 years I suspected and liked to keep his distance.
As we sat at the table making small talk Colleen set the main focus of the meal in front of us. I felt like a kid again as I gazed at the huge amount of meat. The sixty something Jimmy sat squeezed in next to me looking like a sailor with his white beard and blue knit cap. “Colleen,” he said, “You always make the best food.” This meatloaf was a first for me. It had bacon strips all across the top. Everyone shouted out how important the bacon was. “Mmmmm bacon,” murmured Andy. Ooooooooh yeah, I thought. “Anyone want a beer?” Jim asked. Jim was good for a fresh draft of something tasty he kept on tap at all times. Harry, having gotten just about all the way through a 22oz. bottle of Moxy cola said definitively, “Yes Jim. Yes. A beer for me too.” Harry had finally settled down after going through what seemed like 5 trips outside for a cigarette. This was the life. Meatloaf, asparagus, spinach salad, and Denver chocolate cake. Colleen said that the chocolate cake, which was really much more like a mousse/fudge/liquid brownie topped with fresh cream, was her mom’s recipe. After the first-bite oohs and aahs were exchanged and I had finished my second mouthful I wondered if I’d make it through the rest of the heaping bowlful she had served up. This was the kind of gourmet chocolate dessert that would be served in tiny little shot glasses if eaten in one of New York’s finest eateries. How could we possibly finish entire bowls of it? So rich and so good.
Just about at the end of the meal Jim asked Denny if he wanted to see what Harry had brought to show him for his birthday. Until this time I hadn’t really thought about the cap this husky fellow had been sporting all along. It was a multi-colored knitted skull cap that accentuated perfectly his smiling mildly whiskered red face and intense brown eyes. A yarmulke! I thought. That’s what it is. Denny was intrigued with the big gym bag that Harry hoisted onto the dinner table but having just turned six that day, was easily distracted as well. Harry proceeded to pull two large objects from the bag, each with just a simple one-word description. First was what looked to be an extremely old book. It was in tatters to be exact. The second was an enormous horn! What the hell is that I thought!? “This is the Jewish Holy book, the Torah,” Harry said looking directly across the table at Denny. “And this is a shofar.” I had never seen a shofar (ram's horn) before but it was truly a wild, ancient looking thing that just made the moment so absurd and beautiful there was nothing anyone could say. It was like Harry had abruptly transformed himself from the fidgeting uncomfortable guest to an intensely focused teacher when showing the objects to the young boy. He could sense that Denny’s attention was not all there. “You’ll learn more about this when you get older. Jim can explain it to you when you get older,” he kept repeating softly.