Gruel (noun): a thin liquid food of oatmeal or other meal boiled in milk or water.
I first learned of gruel when I read Oliver Twist. Poor Oliver and the other orphans ate gruel three times a day. Little did I know, one day I would be the one stirring a steaming pot of gruel.
Darling Husband and I had moved from the city out to a remote village on the Kamchatka peninsula. We were living in a one-room cabin on a camp property where we conducted children’s summer camps. When we moved to the camp, we inherited a guard dog named Jack, and a guard kitty, named Jill.
Before leaving town, the former camp manager instructed me in the care and feeding of Jack and Jill. Imagine my surprise when I learned their diet consisted of a daily bowl of gruel. Of course, my first thought was to run to the local market and buy a bag of dog food. I soon discovered that the market didn’t sell dog food. So, Jack and Jill were stuck with gruel.
Once a week, I would start a fire in the wood stove and drag out my cauldron. Into the boiling water, I would throw grain and any scraps left over from our meals. I stirred the bubbling brew and watched cabbage leaves, fish heads, and other unrecognizable bits and pieces circle the pot as the gruel cooked.
Once the glutinous mass was cooked, I would set the pot on a bench on the porch to cool. Every day I would put out a cold bowl of gruel for Jack and another one for Jill. They slurped the congealed mass and smacked their lips looking for more.
Jill waiting for her morning bowl of gruel.
One wintry day, I finished concocting my unappetizing brew and prepared to carry it outdoors. Muscles straining, I picked up the pot and headed to the door.
Using my hip, I bumped open the wooden door and was greeted by Jill, the cat. The fumes from the gruel may have caused tears to come to my eyes, but it smelled like catnip to Jill. She danced around my feet, meowing and begging for a taste.
Suddenly, my left foot slipped on an icy patch and my right foot came down on Jill. Jill shrieked and streaked across the yard. I came down hard on my back, and gazed up at an airborne pot of gruel headed in my direction. Splat!
I wallowed out of the slop on the porch, wiped my face to clear the gruel out of my eyes, and stomped across the yard looking for Darling Husband. His reaction was not so darling, as he immediately burst into laughter at the sight of my gruel encrusted person.
As a piece of cabbage slid out of my hair and trailed down my slimy face, I poured out my grueling tale to Darling Husband. In a rage, I declared that this was my last pot of gruel. The next time we made the 8-hour drive to the city, a big bag of dog food, and one of cat food would be at the top of the shopping list.
Jill survived her brutal interaction with my right foot. I nursed a few bruises for the next week, but there was one unexpected consequence once I cleaned up from my gruel bath.
My hair never felt softer or looked better.
The lingering odor of cabbage and fish was a little off-putting to Darling Husband.
But Jack and Jill adored it.