Perfect pea soup — some Downeast directions, and crazy-*ss “coincidences”

Pea soup made with a hambone, ham, and half a can of evaporated milk.
Pea soup made with a ham bone, ham, and half a can of evaporated milk.


A bad head chest head cold this week makes it hard to give the Cuprum, Idaho story the attention it deserves (as promised last week), so I’ll hold off on that till later. The good thing about a bad head chest head cold is that after a few days it gets better, even as your voice still sounds awful. You get to say to people, “My voice may have the sonorous timbre of a belching hippopotamus, but I feel much better than I sound, really!” You may not use those words exactly, but you’re still encouraged to revel in other people’s sympathy even as you’re ready to spring from bed with your “Old Man River” voice and greet the day with open arms.

Another benefit of a bad head chest head cold, I’ve found, is a stronger inclination toward “gallows humor.” “Gallows humor” is not to be confused with “Gallo’s humor,” which happens in some bars, usually with slurred punchlines and too much backslapping. It’s a tendency, instead, to sprinkle pixie dust on the grimmest of thoughts or events and try to draw a smile from people otherwise consumed with the misery of it all. But this post, having checked it, is free of gallows humor.

And so, still trying to keep my cold from clogging my synapses, here’s a brief triptych of humor and coincidental weirdness this week, with an exceptionally delicious pea soup recipe to follow.

H&M9416b copy 2

First, thanks to Margaret Coombs for writing in. This will help get us started:




Our friend Theo Blake still lives in the old family farmhouse up near Dexter, and takes delight in addling your brain by taking every opportunity to avoid a direct response to anything you might ask him. He’s well into his eighties by now, but he’s still a whiz at skirting around a simple answer to a simple question, and this goes especially for people from out of state who stop by to ask directions. Theo’s not mean about it – you can see the twinkle in his eye when he talks – but he will exasperate some the way he tries to “help” them get from one place to another.

Henry and I have written a few of them down, the way Theo’s told us over the years, and here’s a sample that we typed out for you.Directions

We’re headed up to visit him in a few weeks, and I’ll try to remember to take my notebook so I don’t miss something that I think might catch people’s fancy.


It’s just a coincidence… or is it?

The jury is out – sometimes way out there – on what’s behind a “coincidence.” Is it only a coincidence, or is there some Grand Plan steering it your way when you mention someone’s name you haven’t thought of in years and voila, they immediately call you on the phone? I don’t know, and I hope not to; it’s too much fun to keep scratching your head about it.

I have two favorite such co-incidents in my life:

The FedEx driver I hadn’t trained yet (1980s)

The one and only time in my life that a delivery truck has damaged our property – and there have been hundreds and hundreds of deliveries of Christmas packages and materials from clients and all kinds of things ordered online via FedEx, DHL, UPS and others – the only time was back in the 1980s when a FedEx truck dropped off a package and then tore through our split rail fence in the front yard. Despite the racket of shattering and splintering wood, the driver took off as if nothing had happened.

It happened that I was writing a video program for FedEx, which was a new client of mine. The package that was delivered by the reckless FedEx driver was from FedEx headquarters in Memphis. It contained background materials to help me write the program, which was designed to train all FedEx drivers about safety. The program had a working title of —

 Be Safe! What to Do When You Damage Someone’s Property

I’m not sure what happened to the driver, but after I filed an accident report FedEx promptly paid for the damage to the fence. There it is: a FedEx driver damages our property and scoots off after delivering material to help me train him what to do when damaging our property.

Weird-a*sedness on Hammersley Inlet (2002)

We lived for a year in a nearly Edenic setting – an architect-designed waterfront cabin on a skinny little arm of Puget Sound called Hammersley Inlet, a few miles from the town of Shelton, Washington. Where we were, the inlet was barely a hundred feet across and maybe fifteen feet deep, but just deep enough so that occasionally seals would swim in chasing salmon or steelhead or whoever else was loose. Late in the afternoon, we would sit out on the deck overlooking the water to see who, if anyone, might be cavorting about for our viewing pleasure.

Twice in the year, to our amazement, a stray orca porpoised through the water below us. Orcas usually don’t venture that far into the deep recesses of Puget Sound, but if they’re hungry for seal meat they’ll go far afield.

We quickly became friends with our landlord Bruce and his girlfriend Sean. He was the architect and builder of the cabin and had lived in it for several years before renting it to us. One summer weekend, they came down from Seattle to join us for dinner, which started out with wine and cheese on the deck. I told Bruce that my wife and I had seen an orca playing in the inlet just a few days earlier.

“I’ve seen a few of them, too,” he said. “Pretty rare. But the strangest thing ever was, a few years ago, I was out here and suddenly saw the breaching of a gray whale –”


At that very second, a whale surfaced right in front of us, vociferously spraying water from his blowhole. “That’s a gray whale,” Bruce said. We watched the whale dive, then surface again, heading for more open water toward the mouth of the inlet.

We watched him. Or her. Marveling. Jaws around our knees. Exchanged glances. “Holy sh** –“s. Who’s messing with our minds?

Neat trick: say the words “gray whale,” a gray whale shows up at the same micro-instant in a narrow inlet that’s just fifteen feet deep in the distant reaches of Puget Sound, hundreds of miles from open ocean.

For much of dinner we speculated about what had happened and had no better answer than if we’d been asked a Double Jeopardy question about Schrodinger’s Wave Equation.



And now the soup. With winter behaving the way it is, I seem mildly fixated on soup recipes.  Will I ever talk about salads or healthy side dishes? Probably not…

PeaSoupRecipe ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

There you have it. Back next week.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.